BACKGROUND: Dynamic body-weight support (DBWS) may play an important role in rehabilitation outcomes, but the potential benefit among disease-specific populations is unclear. In this study, we hypothesize that overground therapy with DBWS during inpatient rehabilitation yields greater functional improvement than standard-of-care in adults with non-traumatic spinal cord injury (NT-SCI).

METHODS: This retrospective cohort study included individuals diagnosed with NT-SCI and undergoing inpatient rehabilitation. All participants were recruited at a freestanding inpatient rehabilitation hospital. Individuals who trained with DBWS for at least three sessions were allocated to the experimental group. Participants in the historical control group received standard-of-care (i.e., no DBWS). The primary outcome was change in the Functional Independence Measure scores (FIMgain).

RESULTS: During an inpatient rehabilitation course, participants in the experimental group (n = 11), achieved a mean (SD) FIMgain of 48 (11) points. For the historical control group (n = 11), participants achieved a mean (SD) FIMgain of 36 (12) points. From admission to discharge, both groups demonstrated a statistically significant FIMgain. Between groups analysis revealed no significant difference in FIMgain (p = 0.022; 95% CI 2.0–22) after a post hoc correction for multiple comparisons. In a secondary subscore analysis, the experimental group achieved significantly higher gains in sphincter control (p = 0.011: 95% CI 0.83–5.72) with a large effect size (Cohen’s d 1.19). Locomotion subscores were not significantly different (p = 0.026; 95% CI 0.37–5.3) nor were the remaining subscores in self-care, mobility, cognition, and social cognition.

CONCLUSIONS: This is the first study to explore the impact of overground therapy with DBWS on inpatient rehabilitation outcomes for persons with NT-SCI. Overground therapy with DBWS appears to significantly improve functional gains in sphincter control compared to the standard-of-care. Gains achieved in locomotion, mobility, cognition, and social cognition did not meet significance. Findings from the present study will benefit from future large prospective and randomized studies.

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Published in Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation, v. 17, issue 1, article no. 157.

© The Author(s) 2020

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Funding Information

This study was funded by the Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital Endowed Chair in Stroke and Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation (0705129700) and supported by the HealthSouth Therapy Grant.

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The datasets generated and analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.