For paraplegics who use a wheelchair, basic workouts can be difficult because of movement limitations and restricted access to exercise equipment. You may already require assistance from someone to do everyday activities. Upper-body exercise is vital, however, and establishing a routine that you can complete in your wheelchair can be beneficial to living an active, healthy lifestyle.
As a paraplegic, you rely on your upper body to do most of your daily activities. Begin every workout by warming up your muscles and joints, such as flexing your hands and wrists, and performing head and neck rolls. Raise your arms toward the ceiling and extending your fingers. You should feel a slight pull in your arms and back. Bring one bent arm up next to your ear and hold your elbow with the opposite hand. Push your elbow toward your chin and hold for five seconds. Release and repeat with the other arm.
Finding ways to strengthen your arms can be difficult without the use of traditional exercise machines. With help from a partner, however, you can do simple resistance exercises from your wheelchair. To begin, loop a stretchy resistance band around a stable object, such as a door handle or chair leg. Pull the band toward you and flex your bicep muscle. Release your arms back to the starting position. Repeat this exercise 12 times, and perform a set at least once per day. Resistance bands may also be used for triceps extensions, wrist extensions and flexions, diagonal extensions, pull-downs and other upper body exercises.
Weight training can be accomplished without having to get to a gym. Perform basic strength exercises using free weights, dumbbells or even soup cans. When you begin training with weights, start with lighter weights that are between 2 and 5 pounds and work from there. Hold your weights in front of you and slowly bring your arms up to preform a bicep curl. Do 12 reps per arm and relax. To get the most out of this exercise, do it at least once per day. Other exercises may include forward flexions, lateral raises and arm lifts.
Cardiovascular exercise is key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It raises your heart rate, which strengthens your heart muscles. Cardio exercise can also help reduce the risk of heart disease and hypertension, and it increases lung function, boosts metabolism and helps you to burn calories. Paraplegics can get a good cardio workout simply by finding a trail, park or stretch of sidewalk that allows you to "free-wheel" over the terrain, pushing yourself at a speed that can increase your heart rate and is comfortable for you to do for at least 20 to 30 minutes. You can also engage in wheelchair sports such as basketball or tennis, or join a sled hockey team and play ice hockey..
Exercise in a therapy pool is ideal for paraplegics because of the shallow and usually warm water. Therapy pools are typically designed with equipment, such as wheelchair lifts and bars, that allows others to assist you in performing exercises. Aquatic exercises are beneficial to your circulation as the force of the water on your body moves your blood more efficiently from your limbs to your heart. Perform exercises with the help of a life jacket or partner who can hold your weight in the water to help diminish pain from stiff joints and muscles.
Putting it All Together
Do your resistance and strength exercises daily to keep your upper body limber and maintain your range of motion. Try these sample exercises with or without assistive equipment. Don't be afraid to try new things; adapt exercises to suit your needs. If you are unsure of the appropriate types or amount of exercise you should be getting each day, consult your physician for further assessment and information. Never attempt any exercise routine without first discussing it with your doctor.
- Disabled World: Wheelchair Exercises and Fitness
- SCI Action Canada: Active Homes: Home Strength Training Guide for People with Paraplegia
- Washington State University: Aquatic Therapy: Scientific Foundations and Clinical Rehabilitation Applications
- Teach PE: Resistance Band Exercises
- Wheelchair Sports Federation: Sled Hockey