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J Neurotrauma. 2012 May 20;29(8):1600-13. doi: 10.1089/neu.2011.2199. Epub 2012 Apr 18.

A systematic review of exercise training to promote locomotor recovery in animal models of spinal cord injury.

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Department of Physiotherapy, Melbourne School of Health Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.


In the early 1980s experiments on spinalized cats showed that exercise training on the treadmill could enhance locomotor recovery after spinal cord injury (SCI). In this review, we summarize the evidence for the effectiveness of exercise training aimed at promoting locomotor recovery in animal models of SCI. We performed a systematic search of the literature using Medline, Web of Science, and Embase. Of the 362 studies screened, 41 were included. The adult female rat was the most widely used animal model. The majority of studies (73%) reported that exercise training had a positive effect on some aspect of locomotor recovery. Studies employing a complete SCI were less likely to have positive outcomes. For incomplete SCI models, contusion was the most frequently employed method of lesion induction, and the degree of recovery depended on injury severity. Positive outcomes were associated with training regimens that involved partial weight-bearing activity, commenced within a critical period of 1-2 weeks after SCI, and maintained training for at least 8 weeks. Considerable heterogeneity in training paradigms and methods used to assess or quantify recovery was observed. A 13-item checklist was developed and employed to assess the quality of reporting and study design; only 15% of the studies had high methodological quality. We recommend that future studies include control groups, randomize animals to groups, conduct blinded assessments, report the extent of the SCI lesion, and report sample size calculations. A small battery of objective assessment methods including assessment of over-ground stepping should also be developed and routinely employed. This would allow future meta-analyses of the effectiveness of exercise interventions on locomotor recovery.

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