Low-Force Muscle Activity Regulates Energy Expenditure after Spinal Cord Injury

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This study aimed to determine the effects of low stimulation frequency (1 and 3 Hz) and stimulation intensity (50 and 100 mA) on energy expenditure in people with SCI. We also examined the relationship between body mass index and visceral adipose tissue on energy expenditure during low-frequency stimulation.


Ten individuals with complete SCI underwent oxygen consumption monitoring during electrical activation of the quadriceps and hamstrings at 1 and 3 Hz and at 50 and 100 mA. We calculated the difference in energy expenditure between stimulation and rest and estimated the number of days that would be necessary to burn 1 lb of body fat (3500 kcal) for each stimulation protocol (1 vs 3 Hz).


Both training frequencies induced a significant increase in oxygen consumption above a resting baseline level (P < 0.05). Energy expenditure positively correlated with stimulus intensity (muscle recruitment) and negatively correlated with adiposity (reflecting the insulating properties of adipose tissue). We estimated that 1 lb of body fat could be burned more quickly with 1 Hz training (58 d) as compared with 3 Hz training (87 d) if an identical number of pulses were delivered.


Low-frequency stimulation increased energy expenditure per pulse and may be a feasible option to subsidize physical activity to improve metabolic status after SCI.

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