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BACKGROUND: Impaired reactive balance control can lead to increased falls in people with neurological impairments. Perturbation-based balance training (PBT), which involves repetitive exposure to destabilizing external perturbations, improves the ability to take reactive steps in older adults and individuals who have had a stroke.
OBJECTIVE: The objective is to investigate whether PBT or conventional intensive balance training (CIBT) results in greater improvements in reactive stepping ability in individuals with chronic incomplete spinal cord injury (iSCI).
DESIGN: The design consists of an assessor-blind randomized clinical trial comparing the efficacy of 2 balance training programs (PBT and CIBT) matched for training duration (thrice weekly for 8 weeks).
SETTING: A tertiary spinal cord injury rehabilitation center is used as the setting.
PARTICIPANTS: Participants include 24 adults with iSCI classified as a C or D on the American Spinal Association Impairment Scale, who are able to stand independently and exhibit moderate trunk control.
INTERVENTION: Both PBT and CIBT involve 24 sessions, each 1 hour long, of individualized static and dynamic balance tasks. However, PBT includes external, unexpected balance perturbations provided manually by the trainer at a frequency of roughly 1 per training minute.
MEASUREMENTS: The primary outcome is the ability to recover balance using a single step during the Lean-and-Release test, a novel method of assessing reactive balance. Secondary outcomes include a number of clinical balance and gait assessments, and the number of falls experienced in a 6-month follow-up period. Semi-structured interviews are conducted 3 months after training completion to gain insight into the participants' perceptions of the impact of the interventions.
LIMITATIONS: A control group receiving "standard care" for balance training is not included.
CONCLUSIONS: This trial will provide physical therapists with insight into the efficacy of 2 forms of balance training for individuals with iSCI.