Research & Clinical Trials

Exercise for Persons with Disabilities Program

Functional Electrical Stimulation

Many persons with disabilities do not have access to effective exercise programs or opportunities to participate in an active lifestyle. There is ample evidence that exercise can result in health benefits and improve quality of life in those with disabilities. However, exercise must be appropriate to each population to address their unique needs in order to induce optimal health benefits. The Exercise for Persons with Disabilities (ExPD) program provides suitable exercise activities for health, leisure and sport for people with disabilities such as spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, and peripheral neuropathy. 

 The EXPD program specializes in Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) rowing for individuals with Spinal Cord Injury.  FES is a technology that allows paralyzed muscles to contribute to whole body exercise.  In this way, both the paralyzed legs and innervated arms are under voluntary control and higher exercise intensities can be reached and sustained.  In fact, some FES-rowers have achieved unprecedented work rates comparable to those of able-bodied rowers.

Approach To Care

You will be individually evaluated and have an exercise prescription specifically tailored to your needs and capabilities. Your progress is monitored closely, and the exercise prescription is reevaluated frequently. Typically, a combination of FES (Functional Electrical Stimulation) and upper body strength training, arms only rowing, and FES-rowing is used to optimize your performance and functional capacity. 

In addition to our specially adapted rowing machines, you can also use our SkiErg machine that mimics cross-country skiing, a pneumatic resistance trainer to improve muscular strength, a recumbent stepper, and a stationary arm cycle.  This variety of equipment provides opportunity for people with many different types of conditions to perform meaningful exercise.

Benefits of participating in the ExPD program can include an increase in aerobic capacity, an increase in lower extremity bone mass, and an improvement in blood lipid profile. An additional benefit is that the exercise is performed in a group setting, allowing you to encourage other participants. Recently, we have expanded to Community Rowing, Inc. This move enables our rowers to integrate themselves into Boston’s rowing community.

Expertise

The ExPD program is overseen by Exercise Physiologists, who are trained in keeping individuals with chronic diseases, such as Spinal Cord Injury, as fit and healthy as possible through the use of aerobic conditioning and strength training.  Our team is familiar with a wide range of chronic conditions and is experienced in advanced technologies such as oxygen consumption measurement and heart rate monitoring. Our job is to provide you with an individualized exercise program.  Currently, the EXPD program is the only program in the United States that offers FES rowing, giving our staff unparalleled expertise in this emerging form of exercise.

Program Directors

Dr. J. Andrew Taylor is the Principal Investigator for Spaulding’s Cardiovascular Research Lab. Dr. Taylor holds a Ph.D. in physiology from the University of Arizona.  He is also an Associate Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School and a Fellow of the American Heart Association.  He has published over 50 research articles on topics such as the impact of microgravity on blood pressure control in astronauts, the effects of exercise on human aging, and most recently the beneficial effects of functional electrical stimulation of the legs for rowing exercise in those with spinal cord injury.

Glen Picard is the Director of The Exercise for Persons for Disability Program with a Master’s degree in Exercise Science. He has worked as a clinical exercise physiologist and researcher for over 10 years and has held both the Health Fitness Instructor and the Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist certifications from the American College of Sports Medicine.

Meghan Pronovost is a Research Exercise Physiologist with a Master’s degree in Health and Exercise Science and is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine as a Certified Exercise Specialist.  In addition to her work with the ExPD Program, she also has a background in cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation

Research & Innovation

Spaulding Rehabilitation Network is dedicated to researching new treatments in the field of spinal cord injury rehabilitation. Spaulding researchers, including physicians and other clinicians, are working on several research studies and clinical trials.

Research Program
Exercise for Persons with Disabilities Program (ExPD) Program

Description
This program provides the opportunity for people with various disabilities to perform exercise in a safe, monitored environment.  Types of exercise included, but not limited to, are FES rowing, non-FES rowing, strength training, and other forms of aerobic exercise.

Research Program
Bone Health and SCI

Description
A spinal cord injury may greatly increase a person’s risk of bone fractures. Adapted rowing, combined with functional electric stimulation, may reduce this risk by improving bone health.  A Department of Defense funded study currently is seeking people with thoracic SCI to participate in a clinical trial of FES-rowing.

Locations

The ExPD Program is based at the following locations. Click on the name of the facility for more information.

Spaulding Hospital for Continuing Medical Care Cambridge
Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital Boston
Community Rowing, Inc.

Related Services

The following services are related to the ExPD program. Click on the program names below for more information.

Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation