A Spinal Cord Injury or SCI is damage to the tight cell bundles and nerves in the spinal cord that receive and send signals from the brain to the rest of the body. The injury can result from direct trauma to the spinal cord itself or damage to the bones and tissue surrounding the spine. This damage can lead to permanent or temporary changes in movement, sensation, strength, and other body functions below the injury site. While some injuries may allow for a quick recovery, others can cause paralysis in most of the body and will require a longer recovery time. Catastrophic falls and vehicle accidents are some of the most common causes of spinal cord injury.

Depending on the level and severity of a spinal cord injury, individuals may struggle with movements in the upper body, including arms, shoulders, hands, wrists, and elbows, all of which are important for function. The upper extremities are integral for daily activities, such as dressing, lifting, eating, reaching for things, and carrying. To maintain independence and improve function, people with spinal cord injuries must engage in exercises for SCI rehabilitation.

The Importance of Exercise as a Preventative Medicine for Spinal Cord Injuries

The spinal cord acts as a communication pathway between the brain and the body. When disruptions occur in this pathway, the brain has trouble sending signals to move specific muscles, leading to slow or impaired movements. The severity of the injury determines the type of muscles impacted.

Luckily, the spinal cord and human body are resilient and can regain function through neuroplasticity, where the central nervous system rewires itself. Neuroplasticity is essential for recovery and is effectively activated via repetitive exercises. The more there is demand for a specific function, like movement, the more the nervous system reinforces the neural pathways. Thus, to maximize recovery and enhance function, it is crucial to exercise as much as possible. The more you force your body to move, the more functionality you will be able to enjoy.

Best Wheelchair Exercises for Spinal Cord Injuries

Shoulder Rolls

This exercise is a simple yet effective one. Start by moving your shoulder blades in a circular motion, and perform smaller motions depending on your comfort level. Do the movement in a forward direction 10 to 20 times, and repeat it in a backward direction. The primary focus is to squeeze your shoulder blades back as you do the circular motion.

If you can try to isolate your shoulder blades by keeping your arms stationary, that’s even better! Doing so will allow you to develop control of your scapular muscles, which help in moving the upper torso and also prevent injuries.

Arm Circles

This exercise can be done by engaging one or both arms at a time. Start by spreading your arms to the side and aligning them with the shoulders. Next, slowly make circles backward and forward for a few seconds. Start with smaller circles and build your way up to making larger ones over time.

Cross-body Shoulder Stretch

The Cross Body Shoulder Stretch is an excellent workout for the shoulder muscles. Begin in a sitting position in your wheelchair, and place one arm across your chest. Grab its outer forearm with your other hand. Push that arm across the body to feel a stretching sensation, and hold that position for around 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat the same process on the next arm. Pull more gently or stop altogether if you start feeling discomfort or pain.

Wrist Extension and Flexion Stretch

Start by placing one arm straight ahead in front of you. With your other hand, pull the back of the palm towards you and hold that position for a few seconds. Next, push the palm down towards the floor to make a 90 degrees angle and hold the position for a few seconds. Repeat the same motions on the other hand and keep alternating between the two.

Wall-chest Stretch

You should position yourself by the doorway or adjacent to a wall for this exercise. Start by extending your arm to the side and placing your inner arm and palm against the doorway with your elbows bent slightly. Slowly lean forward and alternate your body to the other side until you feel a slight pull throughout your chest and shoulder front. Hold this position for around 20 to 30 seconds, then switch to the next side. The higher you place your hands, the stronger the stretch will be.

Overhead Triceps Exercise

Start by raising one arm over your head and bending your elbow until your hand lies behind your back or head. With the help of the next arm, push the elbow down and gently stretch. Maintain this position for 30 to 40 seconds, then switch to the other arm and repeat.

O’s and Fists

Use one or both of your hands alternately to tap the tips of each finger to the thumb. Once you have completed this rep, you can also try closing the hand into a fist. Hold this position for as long as possible and stretch the fingers back again.

Lateral Stretch

Bend your torso gently to the side and hold that position for a while until you feel a stretch. Repeat on the other side and keep alternating a few times. Control the strength of the stretch according to how much your body can handle.

Intertwined Fingers Stretch

Stretching your fingers is important for promoting healthy blood flow to your hands, thereby preventing stiffness. For this exercise, begin by bringing your hands together and intertwining your fingers. Next, stretch out your arms in front and twist your wrists so that the back of your hands is towards you. Hold the position for around 20 to 30 seconds, but do not overdo it.

VitaGlide can help you Achieve your Fitness Goals Faster

At-home exercises can help you mobilize your body after a spinal cord injury. However, adding an upper-body machine that can upgrade your wellness routine from the comfort of your home is worth the investment. VitaGlide is a state-of-the-art machine used in rehab centers, gyms, and homes to enhance upper body muscles and core strength while reinforcing the shoulder orbit. It has been deemed one of the most effective conditioning exercises for people who use wheelchairs, as it helps them achieve their exercise goals faster and more effectively. Utilizing most of your muscle groups, this seated program helps you develop endurance, boost energy levels, and build your core, arm, and oblique muscles.

Say goodbye to expensive appointments at the rehab center or the inconvenience of traveling far and wide to the gym. With VitaGlide, a healthier you is as close as the next room. You can increase or decrease the frequency or intensity of the workouts per your requirements and fitness goals and work out whenever convenient. You can replace various shoulder exercises with VitaGlide, as it allows you to move your shoulders without putting unnecessary stress on them.

With the two upper-body exercise motions similar to cross-country skiing or rowing, the machine strengthens the musculature of the shoulder orbit, core, and upper body. With interactive software, an ergonomic design, and adjustable resistance, VitaGlide can help you build strength back faster and more effectively.