Sailing Therapy

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News February 2014

Recreational sports can help people rehab following a spinal-cord injury (SCI), and ultimately help them to become happier, according to researchers at the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

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In a pilot study about therapeutic sailing as an important part of rehabilitation released in the Nov. 21 edition of the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, findings show using a hands-on sailing simulator over a 12-week period helped participants safely learn sailing skills in a controlled environment, which improved their quality of life by gaining the ability to participate in a recreational sport.

According to a press release issued by the institute, it’s one of the first studies to scientifically quantify the positive impact of therapeutic sailing following a SCI, including a significant increase in overall self-confidence and sense of accomplishment among participants.

Jan Apel, center, and Tim Dempsey sail on a Scud 18 at Waitemata Harbour, in Auckland, New Zealand at the Auckland Regatta.

Study participants had chronic SCIs that occurred more than six months prior to using the Virtual Sailing VSail-Trainer — the first sailing simulator available for people with paralysis. Participants had no previous sailing experience and worked with the sailing simulator for one hour per week for 12 weeks. It features specialized software that helps patients navigate a boat around a virtual course just like an actual sailboat in the water.

During each session, a therapist assessed physical and neurological indicators and compared the results to measurements taken prior to the training program. Participants completed a questionnaire at the start and finish of the study to evaluate their quality of life and self-esteem.

All participants showed rapid and substantial improvement in their sailing scores, a significant positive increase in overall quality of life — including increased self-confidence and sense of accomplishment — and after completing the program successfully sailed and performed maneuvers on the water at a sailing center in Baltimore.

The subjects also participated in a sports activity with family members and experienced a sense of optimism about the future.

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