Cortical reorganization can be induced by exercise below the level of the lesion after spinal cord injury (SCI). The aim of the present study was to investigate the effect of passive and active pedaling exercise on leg motor cortical area excitability of subjects with traumatic SCI. Ten subjects with chronic cervical or thoracic SCI were enrolled in the study. We found a significant effect of pedaling on short-interval intracortical inhibition (SICI), which did not interact with the experimental condition (active vs. passive). This corresponded to a significant reduction of SICI in the subjects with SCI, together with no evidence that this pattern differed for passive vs. active pedaling. We found no significant effect of pedaling on intracortical facilitation. Our results showed that also passive cycling may be beneficial in activating motor cortical regions and possibly also facilitating motor recovery after SCI. The present study confirms and extends the findings of previous studies that have observed task-specific cortical activation during passive pedaling. Therefore passive exercise therapies when applied below the level of the lesion in subjects with SCI could promote cortical neuroplastic reorganization.
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