A paraplegic is someone who is paralyzed below the waist. The most common cause of paraplegia is spinal cord injury caused by a broken back. Physical exercise is as important to a paraplegic as it is to someone with full use of his legs. Both the upper body and cardiovascular system can be worked through a variety of exercises. Consult your physician or therapist before trying any new exercises.
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Forward Elbow Rotations
Because the shoulders muscles are used extensively by paraplegics who use manual wheelchairs, it is wise to stretch them and the upper back to increase circulation and avoid tight muscles. Place your hands on your hips and rotate your elbows forward, rounding your upper back. Keep your head relaxed, looking down toward the floor. Hold the stretch for a moment, and repeat for 20 to 40 repetitions, advises the Canadian Paraplegic Association.
The military press is an exercise to build strong shoulders, which are a benefit to anyone who uses a wheelchair. Hold a dumbbell weighing around 10 lbs. to 25 lbs. in each hand, depending on your strength level. Raise the dumbbells to shoulder level with your palms facing your head or out in front of you. Slowly press the dumbbells up above your head, then lower to your shoulder. Perform as many repetitions as you can without pain.
The shoulder raise is done with a much lighter weight than the military press. Hold a 1-lb. to 5-lb. dumbbell in each hand with your arms down. With straight arms, raise the dumbbells up to shoulder level with your thumbs pointing up. Pause at the top, then lower and repeat for 10 to 20 repetitions.
Pressing your body up off your chair will help strengthen your shoulders, triceps and back. To perform the exercise, lock the wheels of your chair, then place your hands on the tires. Press your body up as high as you can, or until your arms are straight. Do 10 to 20 repetitions, or as many as you can.
A paraplegic can benefit from the breathing and postures of yoga. Many of the poses must be modified from the original to accommodate physical limitations, but the concept of tranquility and peace of mind will remain. Yoga exercises should be done under the supervision of a qualified teacher.