Many people assume that a spinal cord injury means an end to physical activity – but nothing is further from the truth. Not only is exercise possible with a spinal cord injury, but it’s essential for maintaining a healthy weight, good heart health, pain management and mental health.
Trauma from accidents such as motor crashes and falls can cause three types of spinal cord injury: complete paralysis or very weak muscles; a loss of feeling, or reduced feeling; and impaired autonomic functions such as reduced sweating or low blood pressure.
But no matter how severe the injury, exercise is a powerful medicine that can enhance a person’s functional independence, by improving their ability to operate their wheelchair without help, get into bed or a car, or up and into their chair.
What exercise with a spinal cord injury should look like...
For those people living with a spinal cord injury, it’s recommended that you can and should be active – with a weekly exercise program that includes stretching, strength training and aerobic exercise.
It’s recommended that patients be as physically active as they can, with the aim of at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day. At least two days a week should include strength training for major muscle groups and flexibility training for their major joints.
(yoga, exercise bands, using a standing frame) is important regularly and especially before exercise to prevent stiff muscles and joints. Focus on your shoulders, hips, knees and ankles, which are common areas of tightness after a spinal cord injury. You should stretch most days of the week, doing it by yourself or with help from a therapist, trainer, family member or friend.
(e.g., wheelchair sprints, hand cycling, rowing, wheelchair basketball or swimming) improves cardiorespiratory fitness, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and may reduce the incidence of urinary tract infections. If you are unsure of whether you are working out at moderate intensity, a great way to find out is with the talk test. If you have hit a moderate level, you should be able to talk, but not sing – while with vigorous exercise, you can’t say more than a couple of words without needing a deep breath.
(weightlifting, resistance bands, yoga) builds strength in non-paralysed muscles and may improve strength in those muscles that are partially paralysed. Strength training also works to build balance, joint flexibility, mobility in non-paralysed muscles and bone health. Strength training can be done on the same day, or alternate days, to your aerobic activity – and should target the major muscle groups that you can control. These muscles differ, depending on your spinal cord injury.
Exercise interventions that avoid painful movements and include specific upper-limb strengthening can also reduce shoulder pain, a common problem for manual wheelchair users.
Exercise intensity and duration should start low and increase gradually, particularly for those with tetraplegia or a history of low blood pressure. Short Interval training (5 minutes work followed by full physiological recovery) at low intensity may assist the very unfit to accumulate sufficient aerobic duration.
If you have a spinal cord injury and want to start exercise, call us today!
We get it, it can be confusing knowing where to start, but when it comes to exercise you need to set goals for yourself that you know you can stick to. Have a good think about whether you have the motivation to exercise alone, whether you prefer the companionship and competitiveness of team sports, or if you prefer to get your exercise in nature.
When it comes to exercising safely – and learning from experts in how exercise affects the body, specifically muscles that have experienced trauma and paralysis – then your local Exercise Physiologist can be your new best friend.
Our friendly and expert team of Exercise Physiologist will be able to formulate a plan tailored to your fitness, your specific injury and other lifestyle factors to get you started. And they will patiently teach you how to do so safely, while avoiding the types of injuries specific to those carrying spinal cord damage.
Here at Agility Rehabilitation, we’ve recently been registered as an NDIS – meaning we now offer safe and effective exercise programs for people with pain or disability, including those managed by the NDIA.
For any questions on these or other subjects, please give our expert team at Agility Rehabilitation a call today on (08) 6162 8145.