Dynamic Wheelchair Seating Positions Impact Cardiovascular Function after Spinal Cord Injury

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Inskip JA, Ravensbergen H(JC, Sahota IS, Zawadzki C, McPhail LT, Borisoff JF, et al. (2017) Dynamic wheelchair seating positions impact cardiovascular function after spinal cord injury. PLoS ONE 12(6): e0180195. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0180195.

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Innovative wheelchairs allow individuals to change position easily for comfort and social situations. While these wheelchairs are beneficial in multiple ways, the effects of position changes on blood pressure might exacerbate hypotension and cerebral hypoperfusion, particularly in those with spinal cord injury (SCI) who can have injury to autonomic nerves that regulate cardiovascular control. Conversely, cardiovascular benefits may be obtained with lowered seating. Here we investigate the effect of moderate changes in wheelchair position on orthostatic cardiovascular and cerebrovascular reflex control.


Nineteen individuals with SCI and ten neurologically-intact controls were tested in supine and seated positions (neutral, lowered, and elevated) in the Elevation™ wheelchair. Participants with SCI were stratified into two groups by the severity of injury to cardiovascular autonomic pathways. Beat-to-beat blood pressure, heart rate and middle cerebral artery blood flow velocity (MCAv) were recorded non-invasively.


Supine blood pressure and MCAv were reduced in individuals with lesions to autonomic pathways, and declined further with standard seating compared to those with preserved autonomic control. Movement to the elevated position triggered pronounced blood pressure and MCAv falls in those with autonomic lesions, with minimum values significantly reduced compared to the seated and lowered positions. The cumulative duration spent below supine blood pressure was greatest in this group. Lowered seating bolstered blood pressure in those with lesions to autonomic pathways.


Integrity of the autonomic nervous system is an important variable that affects cardiovascular responses to orthostatic stress and should be considered when individuals with SCI or autonomic dysfunction are selecting wheelchairs.

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