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J Neurotrauma. 2017 Jun 1;34(11):2001-2005. doi: 10.1089/neu.2016.4715. Epub 2017 Jan 24.

Paralympic Medicine: The Road to Rio.

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1 International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries, University of British Columbia , Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada .
2 MD/PhD Training Program, University of British Columbia , Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada .
3 Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia , Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada .
4 GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre, Vancouver Health Authority, University of British Columbia , Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada .


Over the past 10 years, our team has attended numerous Paralympic games and International Paralympic Committee (IPC)-sanctioned events where we have accumulated the largest data set to date from elite athletes with spinal cord injury (SCI). This empirical evidence has allowed us to address critical questions related to health and athletic performance in these incredibly medically complex individuals. Namely, does autonomic function influence performance? Can we account for this with the present sport classification? How can we prevent the doping practice of self-inducing life-threatening episodes of hypertension to improve performance (termed "boosting")? How does extremely high participation in routine upper-body wheelchair exercise impact cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease risk? Is it possible to improve the sport classification to level the playing field between athletes with and without autonomic dysfunction? Herein, we will narratively address these questions, and provide our perspective on future directions and recommendations moving forward. Our extensive clinical experience and comprehensive dataset suggest preserved autonomic function is critical for elite performance. We will explore how an easy-to-execute test may be able to predict which individuals are most likely to develop autonomic dysfunctions that may negatively affect their health and performance. We also will evaluate the possibility that a level playing field may be even more difficult to establish than once thought, considering the importance of not only voluntary movement to performance, but also autonomic function. Finally, we also will discuss new changes in screening guidelines at Rio to assess the occurrence of boosting, which is a banned practice by the IPC.


clinical management of CNS injury; rehabilitation; spinal cord injury; stroke

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