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Sport and disability: a training plan for paraplegics

19 Jul 2013 | By Inserm (Newsroom) | Event | France

One year after the success of the Paralympic Games in London, France will be hosting the World Handisport Athletics Championships this Friday 19 July in Lyon (lasting until 28 July, the World Handisport Athletics Championships.

In Dijon, Gaëlle Deley, scientific officer of the Centre d’Expertise de la Performance and associate researcher in Inserm Unit 1093 “Cognition, action, sensory-motor plasticity” and her team have developed an innovative training technique for paraplegics.

In fact, if they are to be effective for health, sports exercises need to reach a certain intensity but this poses a problem for paraplegics. That is because their bodies do not generally work out hard enough because they can only use their upper limbs. This affects their health since the main causes of mortality among paraplegics are cardiovascular diseases.

By using a rowing machine combined with electrical stimulation, the patient is able to perform the same movements as an able-bodied sportsperson. This procedure mobilises all the muscles in the body and is aimed at increasing the physical capacities and quality of life for a wheelchair-bound person.


crédit : ©Gaëlle Deley

The patient sends an electrical current to his/her thighs via electrodes. This causes the muscles to contract and propel the chair backwards. When the electric current is cut, the action of the upper limbs moves the chair forwards.

This programme, developed in close collaboration with Harvard University, has already taken on considerable magnitude in the United States.  “The purpose is to look at our results and progress together. If the health benefits are confirmed, this method could be developed on a larger scale”, explains the scientific officer.

The initial results are very encouraging: the physical capacities of the patients have improved by nearly 40% after only a few months.

Apart from the health benefits, this method is of great interest to the paraplegic sportsperson, regardless of the sport practised, because this makes it possible to train at much greater intensity and thus to develop physical abilities to a much greater extent”.

For more information about the study currently in progress, please contact Gaëlle Deley.

Researcher Contact

Gaëlle Deley

Responsable scientifique du Centre d’Expertise de la Performance
Chercheur associé à l’unité Inserm 1093 « Cognition, action, plasticité sensori-motrice »