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Physical activity and sport after spinal cord injury : an inside perspective Levins, Stephen Matthew


The spinal cord injured (SCI) population has been shown to be at risk of developing serious secondary complications after injury and many authors have attributed this in part to a sedentary life style. Consequently, this study was designed to examine the issues that encourage and discourage participation in physical activity and sport after a SCI. In recognition of the profound influence of society on disability, it was deemed important to explore fully the social, as well as individual, issues that affect participation. Semi-structured interviews were used to explore the experiences of individuals with paraplegia concerning their experiences with physical activity and sport. Analysis of their statements led to the development of overarching themes that were compared to the growing literature on disability and sport and physical activity. Through the words of eight participants, this study has confirmed the potential importance of physical activity and sport in an individual's life post-injury. More importantly, participants credited activities with providing profound meaning to their lives and a method of contrasting societal stigma as well as creating a positive identity. The potential role of physical activity in assisting in this process emerged as a predominant theme. The participants' narratives provide evidence that social factors do play a large role in enabling or disabling their participation in sport and physical activity after SCI. In addition to citing environmental barriers such as accessibility, availability of resources and equipment, and attitudinal barriers of others; their stories also reveal an internal process of redefining self that occurs after injury which profoundly impacts participation. This internal process, however, is likely in turn influenced somewhat by societal ideals, again outlining the profound influence of society. Consequently, the answer to the question 'What factors determine whether an individual will participate or not participate in physical activity and sport following a SCI?' appears to be complex, involving both internal and external factors. The information gained through the narratives of these eight individuals can help rehabilitation professionals, planners of physical activity and sport, and individuals with SCI, their families and their friends by providing needed insight into both the personal and societal challenges they face.

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