Sci Sports 1996;11(3):173-179
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[Article in French]

Bazzi-Grossin C, Bonnin P, Bailliart O, Bazzi H, Kedra AW, Martineaud JP.

Service de physiologie explorations fonctionnelles multidisciplinaires, hopital Lariboisiere, Paris, France.

Paraplegics have low aerobic capacity because of the spinal cord injury. Their functional muscle mass is reduced and usually untrained. They have to use upperbody muscles for displacements and daily activities. Sympathic nervous system injury is responsible of vasomotricity disturbances in leg vessels and possible abdominal vessels, proportionally to level injury. If cord injury level is higher than T5, then sympathic cardiac efferences may be damaged. Underbody muscles atrophy and vasomotricity disturbances contribute to phlebostasis. This stasis may decrease venous return, preload and stroke volume (Starling). To maintain appropriate cardiac output, tachycardia is necessary, especially during exercise. Low stroke volume, all the more since it is associated with cardio-acceleration disturbances, may reduce cardiac output reserve, and so constitutes a limiting factor for adaptation to exercise. The aim of this study was to verify if use of an underlesional pressure suit may increase cardiac output reserve because of lower venous stasis, and increase performance. We studied 10 able-bodied and 14 traumatic paraplegic subjects. Able-bodied subjects were 37 +/- 6 years old, wellbeing, not especially trained with upperbody muscles: there were 2 women and 8 men. Paraplegics were 27 +/- 7 years old, wellbeing except paraplegia, five of them practiced sport regularly (athletism or basket for disabled), and the others just daily propelled their wheelchair; there were 5 women and 9 men. For 8 of them, cord injury levels were located below T7, between T1 and T6 for the others. The age disability varied from 6 months to 2 years for 9 of them, it was approximately five years for 4 of them, and 20 years for one. We used a maximal triangular arm crank exercise with an electro-magnetic ergocycle Gauthier frame. After five minutes warm up, it was proceeded in one minute successive stages until maximal oxygen consumption is raised. VO2, VCO2, RER were measured by direct method with an Ergostar analyser every 30 seconds. Heart rate was registered continuously using a cardio-frequence-meter Baumann, and ECG was observed on a Cardiovit electro-cardiograph. Each subject reached maximal exercises on different days: one without any contention, and the other one with abdomen and legs contention using an antigravity suit, inflated to 45-50 mm Hg for legs and 30-40 mm Hg for abdomen. The able-bodied subjects VO2 peak was 24 +/- 5.8 mL min-1 kg-1, without any change on peak VO2 and on cardiac frequency when pressure suit was used. Results were different for paraplegics: peak VO2 was significantly higher (21.5 +/- 6.5 mL min-1 kg-1 without contention and 23.8 +/- 6.3 mL min-1 kg-1 with contention), heart rate was significantly lower at all stages of exercise with antigravity suit and comfort was better during exercise and rest. In our study, contention contributed to increase paraplegics's performances, but responses depend also on spinal cord level, injury age, spasticity. Therefore, testing paraplegics using an antigravity suit may be useful to determine if neurovegetative disturbances significantly modify their cardiac adaptation and capability. If gravity suit is efficient, contention tights might be prescribed, with respect to subject's legs measurements. But, because these tights are very difficult to put on, their efficiency has to be proved before, the motivation of the subject is essential too.