Skeletal Health in the Lower Limbs Following Spinal Cord Injury

Skeletal Health in the Lower Limbs Following Spinal Cord Injury

Volunteers needed for a research study on bone health after spinal cord injury.

Researchers at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System are looking for volunteers to participate in a VA funded study about changes in bone health following spinal cord injury. All participants will receive four bone density scans over a 9-month period and some participants will also take part in a rowing exercise program 3 times per week for 9 months which will use electrical stimulation of the legs muscle to perform the rowing action.


How can I participate:

For more information about this study, contact Becky Lambach by phone at (650) 493-5000, 1, 1, 69411.


You are eligible if you are:
  • At least 18 years old,
  • Have a C5 to T12 ASIA-A or ASIA-B spinal cord injury
  • Between 3-24 months post injury.

Brief study description:

Individuals with complete spinal cord injuries (SCIs) are at high risk for bone fractures in their legs because of the loss of bone mass which generally occurs after injury. Fractures after SCI are costly to treat and often lead to additional medical complications. In order to reduce the incidence of fractures, more effective rehabilitation strategies are needed to prevent bone loss after SCI. The goal of this research study is to determine if bone health after SCI can be preserved by using an indoor rowing exercise program with functional electrical stimulation (FES) of the thigh muscles.

We plan to enroll 10 participants in this study; five in an FES rowing exercise intervention group and five who will continue to receive the current standard-of-care treatment. All participants will be less than two years post-SCI and have C5-T12 injury levels. Participants in both the standard-of-care and FES rowing intervention group will have bone density measurements taken four times over a nine-month period. The standard-of-care group will perform no other research procedures.

Participants in the FES rowing intervention group come to VA Palo Alto to participate in 30 minutes of an FES rowing exercise program three times each week for nine months. Our rowing ergometer has been adapted to accommodate individuals with SCIs from level T1-T12. Small surface electrode pads are placed on the skin on the front and back thigh muscles of the participant. The participant controls the stimulation of their own muscles using a button on the rowing handle, allowing them to flex or extend their legs to perform the rowing motion. We will capture 3D movement data during FES rowing in our motion capture laboratory four times over the nine-month period, and we will use this movement data to calculate the skeletal loads generated in each participant’s legs during rowing.

The results of this study will demonstrate whether changes in bone health are different for individuals participating in an FES rowing exercise program compared to those receiving the current standard-of-care treatment. If the FES rowing exercise program is able to prevent bone loss after SCI, with additional research, FES rowing may become a viable rehabilitation strategy to reduce the risk of non-traumatic fracture for individuals with SCI.