Traditionally, spinal cord injury (SCI) rehabilitation focused on compensation. The thought was that the human nervous system could not re-organize and improve function below the level of injury. Recent research and our own client success over the last decade have proven this to be false for many people with SCI. At Project Walk we cannot guarantee who will regain function, however, we understand and recognize symptoms that present the potential to improve function below the level of injury.
We tap into this potential through an intense activity-based program. This program focuses on using specific exercises that are related to the same movement patterns that occur during human development. Through these movements we are attempting to re-establish patterned neural activity within the central nervous system. These movement patterns are replicated by our clients with the assistance of our highly trained SCI Recovery Specialists. Our Specialists have been taught to respond to the cues each client’s nervous system gives them and, by providing the proper stimulus, help it to re-organize.
In addition to the unique exercises and highly trained staff, Project Walk also believes that the use of antispasmodics and other medication associated with traditional SCI treatment may hinder the chance of recovery. Many of our clients have found that the elimination of medications, under their doctor’s supervision, improves their quality of life and helps them to progress in their recovery. As a result of increased activity and less medication, our clients improve their overall health and quality of life.
The Dardzinski Method is a theory based upon more than a decade of experience working with SCI as well as current scientific research. Research on activity and how it relates to SCI has progressed rapidly in the last few years. After SCI, the body begins to breakdown physiologically. This is partially caused by reducing the effect of gravity on the body and through exercise we are attempting to reverse this breakdown. The effects of exercise on someone with a spinal cord injury are similar to that of able-bodied individuals.1 Passive exercise alone has been shown to decrease physiological breakdown after SCI, but we believe weight bearing exercise may have an even greater effect.2,8 This type of exercise is what the human body was designed to do; standing, walking, lifting, etc.
Many of the exercises we use are based on recreating patterned neural activity. This is the process by which it is thought the central nervous system develops its structure and function in the growing human being. The continuous repetition of movement may help to create this neural pattern in the brain and spinal cord.3 Research has shown that relearning a specific motor task may be highly dependent on the repetitive stimuli provided when input from the brain is limited.4
Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) may also be a factor in recovering function. Research suggests that through exercise BDNF levels can be increased and could result in a stimulation of stepping and an increase in axonal sprouting.5-7 In short, the increase in BDNF through exercise may assist in reorganization of the nervous system.
Additional information on the research behind Project Walk’s program or the current studies that Project Walk is conducting can be found in the Institute section of this site.
1. Bickel CS, Slade JM, Haddad F, et al. Acute molecular responses of skeletal muscle to resistance exercise in able-bodied and spinal cord-injured subjects. J Appl Physiol. 2003; 94(6):2255-62
2. Dupont-Versteegden EE, Houle JD, Gurley CM, et al. Early changes in muscle fiber size and gene expression in respose to spinal cord transaction and exercise. Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 1998; 275(4):1124-33
3. McDonald JW, Becker D, Sadowsky CL, et al. Late recovery following spinal cord injury. J Neurosurg Spine. 2002; 97(2)
4. Ferreira CK, Beres-Jones JA, Behrman A, et al. Neural reorganization of the functionally isolated human spinal cord occurs after stand training. Program No. 824.19. 2003 Abstract Viewer/Itinerary Planner. Washington DC: Society for Neuroscience, 2003. Online.
5. Jakeman LB, Wei P, Guan Z, et al. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor stimulates hindlimb stepping and sprouting of cholinergic fibers after spinal cord injury. Exp Neurol. 1998; 154(1):170-84
6. Zhou L, Shine HD. Neurotrophic factors expressed in both cortex and spinal cord induce axonal plasticity after spinal cord injury. J Neurosci Res. 2003; 74(2):221-6
7. Vega, SR, T Abel, R Lindschulten et al. Impact of exercise on neuroplasticity-related proteins in spinal cord injured humans. Neuroscience 2008; 153: 1064-1070
8. Harness ET, Yozbatiran N, Cramer SC. Effects of intense exercise in chronic spinal cordiInjury. Spinal Cord 2008; 46(11), 733–737