Exploring Sport Participation in Individuals with Spinal Cord Injury: A Qualitative Thematic Synthesis

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      To synthesize qualitative studies exploring the experiences of individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI) participating in sport, in relation to physical, psychological, and social health.

      Data Sources

      APA PsycInfo, CINAHL, Embase, Emcare, Medline, and PubMed. No language or date limits were applied.

      Study Selection

      Four researchers were involved in title and abstract screening to identify articles of interest. Two researchers then independently reviewed full texts to identify articles for inclusion. Conflicts were resolved through discussion. Studies were selected if they: a) studied individuals aged 16 or older who were at least one year post SCI; b) explored physical, psychological, and/or social health outcomes resulting from at least three months of sport participation; c) focused on community sports programs; and d) used qualitative or mixed methods.

      Data Extraction

      Fourteen studies were included: the 13 qualitative studies comprised of phenomenology (n=6), qualitative description (n=5), narrative research (n=1), and a case study (n=1), and the one mixed methods study was of sequential explanatory design. Data extracted included study objective(s), participant sex, age and injury, sport details, and themes. Critical appraisal involved utilizing the Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool.

      Data Synthesis

      The overarching theme that emerged from this thematic synthesis was that sport facilitates the gradual progression to living an enriching life after SCI. Following injury, individuals experienced significant disturbance to function and identity. This disturbance was alleviated by the presence of a positive mindset and social support. Factors facilitating the initiation of sport included family and pre-injury sport participation. Limiting factors involved dealing with mental health challenges after SCI and receiving negative messages from medical professionals. The reported benefits of sport were extensive; for example, participants experienced improvements in fitness, strength, independence, confidence, self-acceptance, and sense of community. Challenges of sport participation included the logistics of travelling and managing finances. Sport also helped reshape views of SCI, such as breaking stereotypes and teaching others.


      Sport plays an important role in helping individuals live an enriching life after SCI.

      Author(s) Disclosures

      None reported.


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