Autonomic Dysreflexia and Boosting in Wheelchair Athletes

in Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly
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Autonomic dysreflexia (AD), which occurs in individuals with spinal cord injuries (SCI) above T-6, is caused by an exaggerated sympathetic nervous system (SNS) response to a noxious stimulus. Blood pressure (BP) elevation is a chief symptom of acute AD; this rise in BP makes AD potentially life threatening. Autonomic dysreflexia is also referred to as autonomic hyperreflexia. For this discussion, autonomic dysreflexia will be the term used. It is estimated that approximately 90% of competitive athletes with quadriplegia have intentionally induced AD in order to enhance performance (Burnham et al., 1994). This practice, which is called “boosting,” appears to be an effective, but potentially dangerous, performance enhancement technique. Individuals who work with athletes with SCI above T-6 should be aware of the symptoms, dangers, and treatment of AD, as well as the practice of boosting in order to ensure the safety of these athletes.

Kimberly Long was a master’s degree candidate with the Division of Rehabilitation Education Services Wheelchair Sports Program at the University of Illinois, Urbana, IL 61801, and now works in Tampa, FL. Shawn Meredith serves as sports coordinator with the Division of Rehabilitation Education Services Wheelchair Sports Program at the University of Illinois. Gerald W. Bell is assistant professor with the Department of Kinesiology and Division of Rehabilitation Education Services and serves as academic advisor for the Therapeutic Kinesiology Option and coordinator of the Athletic Training Educational Programs at the University of Illinois.

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