Benefits of Activity-Based Therapy (ABT)

What is activity-based therapy?

Activity-based therapy (or ABT) is a physical exercise program that is intended to treat people suffering from certain medical conditions or recovering from a traumatic injury. It can help restore physiological function in chronic cases even years after an injury, and has been highly used for Spinal Case Injuries (SCI), among other conditions.

A key difference between ABT and traditional physical therapy is that ABT uses moderate to intense workouts to improve muscle strength and neurological function, as opposed to performing slow and controlled movements while working within the constraints of a condition. ABT patients may commit up to two to three hours of physical activity a day to push their boundaries of recovery, restoring muscle function, improving endurance, and improving overall physical health.

Most ABT programs focus on cardio and repetitive movements and can vary in intensity. Examples of ABT exercises include weight-training, cycling, whole-body coordination exercises, crawling or kneel-walking with or without body support, or task-specific training performed mainly out of the wheelchair. Each program will be personalized to each individual’s needs, and facilitation techniques such as tactile, vibratory, or electrical stimulation for muscles or nerves can be used, as well as manual or robotic assistance.

What can ABT treat?

Physical exercise is beneficial for everyone, but there’s a wide range of conditions that ABT can treat specifically, ranging from physical disability to neurological conditions:

  • Spinal Cord Injuries
  • Stroke
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Guillain-Barre Syndrome
  • Spina bifida
  • Transverse myelitis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Central cord syndrome
  • Muscular dystrophy

How does ABT help spinal cord injuries (SCI) specifically?

As there is no cure for SCI, physical rehabilitation may be one of the most important solutions to a productive and independent life as it preserves bone density, muscle mass, and some mobility. Studies have shown that ABT can help restore neurological and functional recovery after spinal cord injury, especially within the first year of the injury. Increased mobility can also increase community participation and overall life satisfaction in patients with older injuries.

Dedicated organizations such as I Am Able, Project Walk, or Next Step specialize in providing personalized recovery plans for temporary or permanent SCI.

What are the benefits?

In addition to promoting neuro recovery and increasing motor function, there are numerous health benefits of ABT:

  • Strengthens the body: Strengthening functional muscles can help patients perform tasks for themselves and move with a greater degree of independence
  • Can reduce depression and improve mood: Endorphins from exercise can improve mood and quality of sleep, and exercise drops stress hormones and increases the number of neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine
  • Heart and respiratory function: Moderate activity benefits both the heart and lungs, which is essential to recovering from an injury and maintaining health
  • Weight control: Weight gain can increase health issues for those who are living with paralysis. Exercise can help maintain an overall healthy body weight.
  • Balance: Strengthening muscles can help to improve balance and stability, along with increasing endurance.
  • Decreased spasticity: ABT can help improve the function of the brain and spinal cord, which decreases spasticity, a state in which muscles are constantly contracted
  • Neural patterns: The goal of ABT is to activate the body’s ability to regenerate spontaneously when it comes to the central nervous system, and researchers have discovered that this is more likely to happen if a patient is actively performing patterned activities.

How to find activity-based therapy services has an interactive map that shows you where you can find ABT resources by state, and it is also helpful to consult with your physician for references to an ABT organization.

Online resources, life care planning professionals, as well as local support groups can also be helpful in finding the right ABT resource for you.