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Virtual Sailing Found To Help With Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation

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According to results from recent research led by a team of scientists at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, the outcomes of rehabilitation of spinal cord injury could be significantly enhanced by using a virtual therapeutic sailing simulator.

The key takeaways from the pilot study, detailed in the American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, demonstrate the positive impact of a hands-on sailing simulator on trial participants´ sailing skills when used for a period of 12 weeks in a supervised environment. The outcomes further suggest that people who have sustained spinal cord injuries can successfully participate in recreational sports, improving their quality of life as a result.

The study involved patients with chronic spinal cord injuries that were sustained six months before they started using the Virtual Sailing VSail-Trainer, with no experience in sailing. The device, which is the first of its kind for people living with paralysis, is a stationary, motorised sailboat cockpit equipped with specialised software that allows the “sailor” to control the boat in the same way they would in a standard sailboat in the water. The patients, who worked with the virtual simulator one hour a week for 12 weeks, were provided with real-time information through electronic sensors, providing them with the opportunity to navigate wind strength and water conditions.

Following an evaluation of physical and neurological indicators that were compared with measurements made before the start of the training programme, along with feedback from the patients obtained through a questionnaire, the researchers concluded that all participants showed significant improvement in their sailing performance. They also demonstrated a solid enhancement in their quality of life, boosting their self-assuredness and sense of accomplishment.

The research was supported by the Kennedy Krieger Institute´s International Center for Spinal Cord Injury, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Melbourne.