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New Mobile App Promotes Fitness for People with Spinal Cord Injury

Shepherd Center's SCI-Ex app provides exercise regimens using video demonstrations.

NOTE TO OUR READERS: Shepherd Center discontinued the SCI-Ex app in June 2019, but hopes to launch a new, improved version of it in the future. All SCI-Ex videos can be found here.

Shepherd Center, in collaboration with MobileSmith, has developed a mobile app called SCI-Ex to promote fitness for people with spinal cord injury (SCI). The app, which is available for both Apple and Android devices, provides video demonstrations with detailed descriptions of proper equipment use, accurate transfer methods and adaptive exercise techniques.

“There is some information online and still photos of exercises, but until now, there have not been any user-friendly, in-depth videos of exercises for people with spinal cord injury,” said Nicholas Evans, one of the lead exercise physiologists at Shepherd Center. “SCI-Ex doesn’t just present exercises, but incorporates the proper techniques to use assistive devices, proper transferring methods, and how to manage those methods and/or devices in a facility.”

The SCI-Ex app is available as a free download in the Apple iTunes and Google Play stores (search "Shepherd Center"). It was developed with funding from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation and Shepherd Center Foundation.

The current version of the app is a pilot project designed to get user feedback on an initial set of exercise videos produced by Brothers Young Productions. Shepherd Center plans to expand the app’s content in future versions as additional funds become available.

“Individuals who will benefit from the SCI-Ex app are those with spinal cord injury, family members, caregivers, exercise professionals and clinicians who are not familiar with spinal cord injuries,” said Rebecca Washburn, manager of Shepherd Center’s Beyond Therapy® and wellness programs. “It will promote education about SCI health and wellness for individuals and wellness center professionals.”

The app allows users to choose exercises appropriate for their injury level, set and track fitness goals, and save information on their exercise routine. SCI-Ex also includes links to helpful resources.

SCI-Ex features exercises for people with an SCI between C-3 and T-12. Exercises are available in four categories: strength training, cardiovascular, flexibility/balance, and neuromuscular.

“The app includes exercises for the entire body, but can also be broken down based on specific muscle groups, types of exercises, and based on a user’s functional ability and level of assistance required to perform the movements,” said Brandon Clift, a lead exercise physiologist at Shepherd Center.

“This app can be a great resource for individuals to become more knowledgeable and independent with developing an exercise routine in community gym settings and also aid fitness professionals and/or caregivers on how to properly assist with various types of exercises outside of a typical SCI rehab setting,” Clift added.

SCI-Ex is also a great tool for developing a home-based exercise program once a patient discharges from Shepherd Center or any rehabilitation center, the developers noted.

“We believe this app will enhance our ability to share information with the SCI community so they can take part in healthy behaviors – in particular, addressing the challenges faced by people with SCI in following an exercise regimen after they leave a rehabilitation facility,” said Shari McDowell, program director of Shepherd Center’s SCI Program.

Before launching the app, Shepherd Center asked some people with SCI and some fitness professionals to test the app and provide feedback. One tester, Jennifer Rewkowski, director of program management at Metro Atlanta YMCA, said: “I found the app easy to navigate and full of information. Everything our YMCA wellness coach will need is right at their fingertips!”

MobileSmith, the Raleigh, N.C.-based company that developed SCI-Ex in collaboration with Shepherd Center, said the app was the first of its kind in terms of targeting the fitness needs of people with SCI. Users can access information and videos in a suitable, goal-oriented manner. SCI-Ex was built with accessibility being the major component in the design of the app, while understanding the physical limitations of the user, the developers explained.

“The app uses a clean, one-page design instead of layered menus – meaning all the features are within a few taps, and minimal effort is required to navigate to the content,” said Tony Orsa, user interface and product specialist for MobileSmith. “SCI-Ex offers tremendous convenience and engagement for people with spinal cord injury, while also promoting significantly improved outcomes.”

Written by Alaina Case

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.