Effects of acute intermittent hypoxia on hand use after spinal cord trauma: A preliminary study

Neurology. 2017 Oct 31;89(18):1904-1907. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000004596. Epub 2017 Sep 29.


Objective: To test the hypothesis that daily acute intermittent hypoxia (AIH) combined with hand opening practice improves hand dexterity, function, and maximum hand opening in persons with chronic, motor-incomplete, cervical spinal cord injury.

Methods: Six participants completed the double-blind, crossover study. Participants received daily (5 consecutive days) AIH (15 episodes per day: 1.5 minutes of fraction of inspired oxygen [FIo2] = 0.09, 1-minute normoxic intervals) followed by 20 repetitions of hand opening practice and normoxia (sham, FIo2 = 0.21) + hand opening practice. Hand dexterity and function were quantified with Box and Block and Jebsen-Taylor hand function tests. We also recorded maximum hand opening using motion analyses and coactivity of extensor digitorum and flexor digitorum superficialis muscles using surface EMG.

Results: Daily AIH + hand opening practice improved hand dexterity, function, and maximum hand opening in all participants. AIH + hand opening practice improved Box and Block Test scores vs baseline in 5 participants (p = 0.057) and vs sham + hand opening practice in all 6 participants (p = 0.016). All participants reduced Jebsen-Taylor Hand Function Test (JTHF) time after daily AIH + hand opening practice (-7.2 ± 1.4 seconds) vs baseline; 4 of 6 reduced JTHF time vs sham + hand opening practice (p = 0.078). AIH + hand opening practice improved maximum hand aperture in 5 of 6 participants (8.1 ± 2.7 mm) vs baseline (p = 0.018) and sham + hand opening practice (p = 0.030). In 5 participants, daily AIH-induced changes in hand opening were accompanied by improved EMG coactivity (p = 0.029).

Conclusions: This report suggests the need for further study of AIH as a plasticity "primer" for task-specific training in spinal cord injury rehabilitation. Important clinical questions remain concerning optimal AIH dosage, patient screening, safety, and effect persistence.

Clinicaltrialsgov identifier: NCT01272336.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Hand / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / rehabilitation*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Treatment Outcome

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01272336