Background: This study compared the thermoregulatory responses and activity profiles of elite wheelchair rugby (WCR) players with a cervical spinal cord injury (SCI) to those players
with a non-spinal related physical impairment (NON-SCI) during competitive match play. The aim was to identify which WCR players are at the greatest risk of potential heat injury enabling coaches and
medical staff to improve player safety during match play.
Methods: Seventeen WCR players were divided into two groups depending on their physical impairment; SCI (n=10) or NON-SCI (n=7). In addition to match play activity profiles,
determined using an indoor tracking system, all players were monitored for core temperature, skin temperature, heart rate, subjective ratings of perceived exertion and thermal sensation.
Results: Total and relative match play distances were lower and mean speed slower in SCI than NON-SCI (p<0.05). In contrast, the change in core temperature (1.6°C ± 0.4°C vs. 0.7°C ±
0.3°C for SCI and NON-SCI, respectively) and body heat content during match play were found to be significantly greater in SCI than NON-SCI (p<0.05). There were no differences between groups for mean
skin temperature or perceptual responses.
Conclusions: Players with a cervical SCI were under greater thermal strain than NON-SCI, even though they covered less distance and displayed slower mean speeds. Therefore, coaches
should be aware that these players are at a heightened risk of heat injury predominantly due to their thermoregulatory impairment and not their activity profile during WCR match play.