A spinal cord injury (SCI) is damage to the tight bundles of nerves and cells that receive and send signals from the brain to the rest of the body. It can be caused by direct impact on the spinal cord or damage to the bones and tissue surrounding the spine.
These injuries pose unique challenges to achieving and retaining optimal physical function, which is a key dimension of wellness. The widespread and complex physiological consequences of SCI and the associated physical inactivity increase vulnerability to secondary health issues, such as cardiovascular disease, stress, and depression.
Studies suggest that people with SCI reported improved physiologic and general psychological function. Despite this improvement, surveys have observed a low participation rate in leisure time, physical activity, and exercise compared to others.
Individuals with SCI who were non-exercisers identified restrictions such as unaffordable exercise equipment and gym memberships, inaccessible fitness facilities, fear of getting injured, and lack of knowledge regarding SCI-specific exercise regimes.
Importance of Exercise as a Preventative Medicine for Spinal Cord Injuries
SCI can permanently or temporarily cause changes in sensation, strength, and other body functions below the injury site. These effects can be disheartening for people with SCI and their families. However, regular physical activity holds great promise.
It is no surprise that exercise is important for all since it minimizes the risk of developing chronic health issues, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and some types of cancer. The benefits extend beyond the basic ones for people with a spinal cord injury. This is because individuals with SCI who are more physically active tend to have a lower risk of developing secondary health complications like pressure sores, urinary tract infections, and respiratory issues.
Regular exercise can also help you effectively manage problems such as chronic pain, weight gain, and spasticity. Another added benefit is improved endurance and strength, which also enhances your ability to perform daily tasks like pushing a manual wheelchair. Indulging in physical activity may also allow you to manage the feeling of loneliness, anxiety, and sadness by keeping you distracted and making you feel accomplished.
Categories of Exercise for People with Spinal Cord Injuries
Adjusting to life after sustaining a spinal cord injury is difficult. Regular exercise not only helps to continue rehabilitation but also paves the way for a healthier lifestyle. Attending a fitness center or investing in at-home equipment such as VitaGlide will help you achieve your exercise goals faster and provide a sense of accomplishment. The psychological effects of exercising can be an excellent motivational tool and go a long way in improving an individual’s general quality of life.
Exercise for people with SCI can be divided into three main categories:
- Strength-building exercise to maintain the capacity to carry out daily activities and mobility and avoid injuries due to imbalance or muscle weakness.
- Aerobic exercise to improve cardiovascular health.
- Flexibility training to minimize spasticity and enhance range of motion.
Exercise is a well-known intervention that can have lasting effects on functionality after a spinal cord injury. Over time, regular physical activity works by minimizing secondary health complications and encouraging neural recovery. There is no quick fix that can replace the benefits of exercise for people with SCI.
Exercise Guidelines for People with Spinal Cord Injuries
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following exercise guidelines for adults:
- 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week.
- 2 or more days of strength training that covers all major muscle groups.
- 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise weekly.
- An equal mix of moderate exercise, strength training, and rigorous aerobic exercise for 2 or more days every week.
- 2 to 3 days of balance and agility exercise. Depending on your capacity, you can do these exercises daily.
People with spinal cord injuries need to take the following precautions:
- Dysreflexia awareness/temperature awareness –empty the urine bag before exercising.
- Exercise sessions should include 5 to 10 minutes short intervals of moderate intensity alternating with 5-minute active recovery periods.
People with spinal cord injuries should regularly stretch to prevent muscle and joint stiffness. A good stretching routine should cover all major muscle groups, including your shoulders, knees, hips, and ankles. Stretch as many times as you can per day, starting with 30 seconds for each muscle group. Make sure to stretch before and after strength training and aerobic exercise.
Begin your aerobic exercise with a proper warm-up. Continue exercising at a moderate or vigorous intensity and conclude by doing a light-intensity exercise to slowly decrease your heart rate.
Gauge the intensity of your exercise with the “talk test.” If you are exercising at a moderate intensity, you should be able to speak normally but not sing. If you are doing high-intensity exercise, you won’t be able to utter more than a few words without catching your breath.
You can strength train on the same or different day as aerobic exercise. The aim of doing strength training is to target major muscle groups. These muscles will vary for everyone depending on the spinal cord injury. For starters, you might establish a minimum set of reps of the exercise and increase the number over time.
Tips for a Successful Exercise Regimen for People with Spinal Cord Injuries
- Be realistic. If you are currently exercising, do not jump into a 5-day rigorous-intensity regimen. Allow your body enough time to get used to physical activity and slowly add other exercises to the mix.
For example, start with 1-day-per-week and slowly work your way up until you get used to exercising. It is best to exercise regularly for at least 30 minutes, but even 10 minutes of physical activity at a time can offer many health benefits.
Similarly, start with short intervals of 5 to 10 minutes of high-intensity exercise, then switch to a lower-intensity exercise. Gradually increase the time of your high-intensity exercise.
- Engage in exercises you love. It is a must to find exercises from each category that you absolutely enjoy doing and then stick with them. There is an array of exercises to choose from, so pick ones that are accessible, interesting, and affordable in the long run.
- Switch it up. Avoid doing the same exercises every time, or you will quickly find yourself losing interest in them. Varying your exercises will also provide more benefits and minimize the risk of overuse injuries.
No Gym Membership? No Problem!
Going to the gym with a spinal cord injury can be quite daunting. The good news is that you can begin a well-rounded exercise regimen from the comfort of your home with VitaGlide, a state-of-the-art machine that enhances upper body muscles and core strength while reinforcing the shoulder orbit.
The equipment has been regarded as one of the best for people who use wheelchairs since it helps them effectively incorporate exercise into their daily routine. The VitaGlide engages most of your muscle groups thanks to the two upper-body exercise motions; this seated program helps you develop endurance, increase energy levels, and build your core, arm, and oblique muscles. With interactive software, an ergonomic design, and adjustable resistance, VitaGlide can help you build strength back faster and reach your fitness goals more efficiently.