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J Neurotrauma. 2017 May 1;34(9):1726-1743. doi: 10.1089/neu.2016.4558. Epub 2016 Dec 20.

Effects of Activity-Based Therapy Interventions on Mobility, Independence, and Quality of Life for People with Spinal Cord Injuries: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.

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1 Faculty of Health Sciences, The University of Sydney , Sydney, Australia .
2 John Walsh Center for Rehabilitation Research, Kolling Institute, Northern Sydney Local Health District and Sydney Medical School Northern, The University of Sydney , Sydney, Australia .
3 Radboud University Nijmegen , Nijmegen, the Netherlands .


The aim of this study was to review the literature about the effects of activity-based therapy (ABT) interventions on mobility, functional independence, and quality of life for people with a spinal cord injury (SCI). A systematic review with meta-analysis of randomized and non-randomized trials was performed, including adults with a non-progressive SCI at any level. The intervention of interest was ABT, defined as any intervention that sought to improve muscle activation or sensory function below the level of injury in the spinal cord and does not rely on compensatory mechanisms for improving function. The comparison was either no intervention or conventional physical interventions targeted to regions above the level of injury. The outcome measures were quality-of-life questionnaires, mobility assessments, and functional independence scales. Nineteen trials were included in this systematic review. Three compared ABT to no intervention and 16 to conventional physical rehabilitation. The methodological quality of the trials was assessed using the PEDro scale as moderate. Six studies investigated the effects of ABT interventions for the upper limbs, 11 investigated gait-related interventions, and two applied multi-modal interventions. Compared with no intervention, the meta-analysis found that ABT was not more effective for improving independence or lower limb mobility, but conferred a large positive effect on upper limb function. Compared with conventional physical interventions, there was no significant effect of ABT on lower limb mobility, independence, or quality of life; however, it had positive effects on upper limbs. In conclusion, there is evidence that ABT can improve independence and functional ability when applied to the upper limbs in people with SCI. However, it is not superior to conventional physical interventions when applied to the lower limbs.


locomotor function; recovery; rehabilitation; spinal cord injury

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