Seed for Science Winner’s Story: Expanding Exercise Opportunities for Persons with Spinal Cord Injuries 

Griffin Sipes, from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, is one of the winners of the 2023 Seed for Science Initiative for his research project Improving exercise recommendations for cardiovascular function for persons with spinal cord injuries. Along with the $10,000 stipend to support further research of his project, he has received Trigno EMG equipment from Delsys and other biofeedback sensors from Moxy, VO2 Master, and Polar.

Persons with spinal cord injuries have a limited number of accessible exercise options available to them, contributing to health problems within the population: 

50% more likely to develop cardiovascular disease2
3X more likely to develop rotator cuff injuries6
Experience chronic fatigue, which can lead to further health issues

To combat these issues and find the best possible form of exercise for people with spinal cord injuries, Sipes intends to monitor heart rate, rate of fatigue, and muscular stress. Using the equipment provided by the De Luca Foundation, Sipes can collect the data he needs to conduct his research: 

Sipes will compare the data he gets from these sensors during different forms of exercise to determine which is best for both improving heart health and minimizing injury. 

Sipes got the idea for his project when working with Paralympians using handcycles. He wanted to see if he could translate handcycling’s health benefits and reduced musculoskeletal strain to an everyday wheelchair using more accessible equipment. 

Dr. Ian Rice (left) and Griffin Sipes (right) collecting data in the Tissue Biomechanics Lab at UIUC

Sipes’s current focus is testing how an off-the-shelf wheelchair attachment, The Free Wheel (fig. 1), can reduce the strain put on the musculoskeletal system. By comparing the data between exercise done with and without the attachment, Sipes hopes that it will help limit injury and give wheelchair users an accessible option to exercise safely. 

Figure 1. Image prepared by Griffin Sipes and his team at UIUC’s Tissue Biomechanics Lab.


[1] A. J. Dallmeijer, I. D. B. Zentgraaff, N. I. Zijp, and L. H. V. Van Der Woude, “Submaximal physical strain and peak performance in handcycling versus handrim wheelchair propulsion,” Spinal Cord, vol. 42, 10. 2, pp. 91– 98, Feb. 2004, doi: 10.1038/

[2] S. L. LaVela, C. T. Evans, T. R. Prohaska, S. Miskevics, S. P. Ganesh, and F. M. Weaver, “Males aging with a spinal cord injury: prevalence of cardiovascular and metabolic conditions,” Arch Phys Med Rehabil, vol. 93, no. 1, pp. 90– 95, Jan. 2012, doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2011.07.201. 

[3] E. Garshick et al., “A prospective assessment of mortality in chronic spinal cord injury,” Spinal Cord, vol. 43, no. 7, Art. no. 7, Jul. 2005, doi: 10.1038/ 

[4] American College of Sports Medicine, D. Riebe, J. K. Ehrman, G. Liguori, and M. Magal, Eds., ACSM’ s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription, Tenth edition. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer, 2018. 

[5] J. O. Totosy de Zepetnek, C. A. Pelletier, A. L. Hicks, and M. J. MacDonald, “Following the Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults With Spinal Cord Injury for 16 Weeks Does Not Improve Vascular Health: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” Arch Phys Med Rehabil, vol. 96, no. 9, pp. 1566– 1575, Sep. 2015, doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2015.05.019. 

[6] M. L. Boninger, M. Baldwin, R. A. Cooper, A. Koontz, and L. Chan, “Manual wheelchair pushrim biomechanics and axle position,” Arch Phys Med Rehabil, vol. 81, no. 5, pp. 608– 613, May 2000, doi: 10.1016/s0003-9993 (00)90043-1. 

[7] K. M. Halloran, J. Peters, M. D. K. Focht, I. Rice, and M. E. Kersh, “Propulsion kinetics of recumbent handcycling during high and moderate intensity exercise,” Journal of Biomechanics, vol. 156, p. 111672, Jul. 2023, doi: 10.1016/j.jbiomech.2023.111672. 

[8] G. C. Sipes, K. M. Halloran, S. Koyejo, I. Rice, M. E. Kersh, “Estimating hand reaction forces from arm segment accelerations during handcycle propulsion using machine learning,” Congress of International Society of Biomechanics, 2023, Poster