Posted on December 5, 2019

Spinal cord injury study shows promise for increased independence; more participants needed

People with spinal cord injuries who exercise regularly are seeing a positive impact on their health, according to preliminary results of a study by Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital and the University of Michigan.

The three-year, collaborative research effort is investigating whether a novel exercise training program affects quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries. Funded by the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, the study is in its second year.

Shelly Loose at therapy
Shelly Loose at therapy at Mary Free Bed

“The team is pleased with initial study results,” said Naxal Shah, a research informatics assistant with Mary Free Bed’s John F. Butzer Center for Research & Innovation.

Of the 77 people who’ve participated so far, the majority have reported a positive increase in independence, mobility and endurance, Shah said. Progress is measured by physical activity and quality of life surveys.

Shelly Loose, who was injured 30 years ago, didn’t work out regularly before choosing to participate in the program. She gained enough strength and built enough confidence to realize her goal of competing in a 5K handcycle race. Another participant gained core strength and improved balance, making transfers easier and eliminating the need for assistance at work.

New participants are being recruited for the program, which is being conducted at the Mary Free Bed YMCA, a universally designed, fully accessible facility.

Requirements include:

  • Must be 18 years old or older
  • History of traumatic spinal cord injury sustained at least three months prior
  • Not currently participating in organized exercise program or sports team

Participants will:

  • Take part in an eight-week exercise program specifically designed for people with spinal cord injury.
  • Receive a free, eight-week YMCA membership
  • Meet like-minded peers with spinal cord injury
  • Learn about Mary Free Bed’s Wheelchair & Adaptive Sports program
  • Receive a $30 stipend for completing portions of the program

For more information or to sign up, call 616.840.8926 or email