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HomeNewsNew trial aims to reduce impact of spinal cord injuries

New trial aims to reduce impact of spinal cord injuries

A simple yet smart approach may hold the key to greatly improved health for those with life-changing spinal cord injuries.

Researchers from the Kolling Institute’s John Walsh Centre for Rehabilitation Research are launching a project to assess whether a specific breathing technique can improve many of the challenges faced by people with a spinal cord injury, like chronic pain, life threatening unstable blood pressure, fatigue and poor mood.

The Spinal cord injury, Mind and HeART or (SMART) study has been made possible by $3 million in combined funding from NSW Health and the University of Sydney.

The research project, to be run at RNSH, will see participants allocated to two groups. One group will continue with their usual care, while the other will undergo a 10-week specialised program involving guided breathing practice using computer feedback of heart rate function, and psychological strategies like mindfulness and visualisation techniques. 

Study lead Professor Ashley Craig is looking forward to the unique project, with more than 300 adults suffering a spinal cord injury in NSW every year.

“Spinal cord injuries can have a devastating impact, with a broad range of short and long-term health issues, including some which can be life-threatening like unstable blood pressure,” said Ashley. 

A disrupted nervous system can be likened to a car without brakes, with limited moderation of the effects of the nervous system
Professor Ashley Craig

“Clinicians currently rely on a host of pain management and treatment approaches, but our team is keen to measure the benefits of this innovative breathing technique to determine if it could be an effective addition to existing treatment strategies. 

“Yoga enthusiasts have long used rhythmic breathing to achieve tranquillity of the mind, and we now know that the way we breathe regulates our nervous system, in turn affecting our blood pressure and our ability to recover from stress.

“Our study aims to determine if rhythmic breathing can help people with a disrupted nervous system as a result of their spinal cord injury. It will assess whether the breathing and importantly, the feedback of heart function can improve the functioning of the nervous system."

The researchers approach will involve a specific type of breathing to regulate heart function to a point where it influences neural function and the autonomic nervous system. 

Ashley said the hope is this will in turn deliver wide ranging benefits for the brain, the gut, the heart, sleep and a host of other physical functions.

“We are keen for at least 100 people to join our study and potentially help establish a new and effective, evidenced-based approach to care,” he said.

How to participate in the trial:
Researchers are now recruiting for the study and are encouraging those interested in taking part to contact them. Please email or call 0420 378 157 

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