Study: Wheelchair Rugby Tied to Lower Depression Risk in SCI Patients

Wheelchair rugby, known for its raucous, full-contact play, has now also been associated with significantly reduced risk for depression in people who have spinal cord injury (SCI).

A new University of Houston project studied 150 people with SCI who also played wheelchair rugby regularly. In a news announcement, researchers said just 17 percent of the athletes in the study had symptoms of depression. Overall, about half of people with SCI also report symptoms of depression.

Researchers also found that athletes who practiced wheelchair rugby more regularly (twice or more a week) were at lower risk of depression than those who practiced once a week or less.

Lead author Stephanie Silveira, a graduate student at the University of Houston, said of wheelchair rugby, “It’s such a unique sport, and there’s so much camaraderie where participants come together in a safe environment with people just like them. The teammates help each other with not only how to play, but with different life skills as well.”

Researcher Daphne Hernandez, a University of Houston assistant professor who worked on the study, added, “Participating in multiple wheelchair sports can be really expensive, so that’s not feasible for some. The great finding with this study is you can still have great results playing one sport two times a week. We met men who were totally transformed by playing the sport.”

The study was funded by Houston-based TIRR Memorial Hermann, a rehabilitation facility that treats a number of conditions, including spinal cord injury, brain injury and stroke. University of Houston Assistant professor Michael Cottingham and Associate Professor Tracy Ledoux were also on the research team. Research findings were published in the journal Spinal Cord in May.

To increase awareness of wheelchair rugby, University of Houston’s Adaptive Athletics program is holding a free four-day rugby summer camp June 22-25 at the school’s Recreation and Wellness Center.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at


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