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Blood Redistribution during Exercise in Subjects with Spinal Cord Injury and Controls


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: June 2009 - Volume 41 - Issue 6 - p 1249-1254
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e318196c902
Basic Sciences

Introduction/purpose: During exercise, redistribution of blood takes place to enhance blood flow to exercising muscles. To examine the role of sympathetic control in blood redistribution, we assessed blood flow in inactive regions (leg-splanchnic area) during arm-crank exercise in controls and in subjects with spinal cord injury (SCI) who lack central sympathetic control.

Methods: SCI with a low lesion (≤T7; SCI-L) have no leg sympathetic control and SCI with high lesion (≥T6; SCI-H) lack sympathetic control in the legs and splanchnic area. This enables us to compare inactive regions between subjects with (controls, SCI-L; splanchnic) and without sympathetic innervation (SCI-L: leg, SCI-H: leg-splanchnic). Before and every 5 min during a 25-min arm-crank exercise bout at 50% of the individual maximal capacity, portal vein and femoral artery blood flow were measured.

Results: Before exercise, portal vein blood flow was not different among groups. Arm-crank exercise induced a significant decrease in portal vein blood flow in subjects with splanchnic sympathetic control (able-bodied controls + SCI-L; ANOVA, P < 0.05), whereas SCI-H showed no change in portal vein blood flow. Baseline femoral artery blood was significantly lower in SCI compared with able-bodied controls. Exercise increased femoral artery blood flow in subjects with leg sympathetic control (controls; ANOVA, P < 0.05) but not in persons lacking sympathetic control in the leg (SCI). Leg vascular conductance did not change during exercise in both groups.

Conclusions: In summary, portal vein blood flow decreases in subjects with sympathetic control of the splanchnic area, whereas exercise-induced changes in femoral artery hemodynamics did not differ between groups. These observations primarily indicate the presence of regional differences regarding the magnitude of exercise-induced blood redistribution in vivo in humans.

1Department of Physiology, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, THE NETHERLANDS; and 2Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Science, Liverpool John Moore's University, Liverpool UNITED KINGDOM

Address for correspondence: Dick H. J. Thijssen, Ph.D., M.Sc., Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, Geert Grooteplein-noord 21, 6525 EZ, Nijmegen, the Netherlands; E-mail:

Submitted for publication April 2008.

Accepted for publication November 2008.

©2009The American College of Sports Medicine