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J Spinal Cord Med. 2013 Jan;36(1):44-57. doi: 10.1179/2045772312Y.0000000026.

Effectiveness of intense, activity-based physical therapy for individuals with spinal cord injury in promoting motor and sensory recovery: is olfactory mucosa autograft a factor?

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Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan, Center for Spinal Cord Injury Recovery, Detroit, MI 48502, USA.



Rehabilitation for individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI) is expanding to include intense, activity-based, out-patient physical therapy (PT). The study's primary purposes were to (i) examine the effectiveness of intense PT in promoting motor and sensory recovery in individuals with SCI and (ii) compare recovery for individuals who had an olfactory mucosa autograft (OMA) with individuals who did not have the OMA while both groups participated in the intense PT program.


Prospective, non-randomized, non-blinded, intervention study. Using the American Spinal Injury Association examination, motor and sensory scores for 23 (7 OMA, 6 matched control and 10 other) participants were recorded.


Mean therapy dosage was 137.3 total hours. The participants' total, upper and lower extremity motor scores improved significantly while sensory scores did not improve during the first 60 days and from initial to discharge examination. Incomplete SCI or paraplegia was associated with greater motor recovery. Five of 14 participants converted from motor-complete to motor-incomplete SCI. Individuals who had the OMA and participated in intense PT did not have greater sensory or greater magnitude or rate of motor recovery as compared with participants who had intense PT alone.


This study provides encouraging evidence as to the effectiveness of intense PT for individuals with SCI. Future research is needed to identify the optimal therapy dosage and specific therapeutic activities required to generate clinically meaningful recovery for individuals with SCI including those who elect to undergo a neural recovery/regenerative surgical procedure and those that elect intense therapy alone.

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