Exercise Therapy for Cauda Equina Syndrome

Exercise can be effective in the treatment and management of a number of chronic health conditions. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, participation in physical activity can also be useful for those who suffer from acute conditions -- including cauda equina syndrome. Understanding which exercises to include and how to incorporate them into a daily routine is crucial for those living with this rare disorder.

An elderly couple walking outside together with walking sticks. (Image: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images)

Cauda Equina Syndrome Basics

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons describes cauda equina syndrome as a condition that affects a group of nerves at the base of the spinal cord. The condition often develops as a result of a sudden, violent impact, such as from a car crash, a fall from a great height or a gunshot wound. However, certain chronic conditions such as a tumor, infection or ruptured disk can also cause the condition. Cauda equina syndrome -- or CES -- is a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment from a health care professional.

Benefits of Exercise

Exercise is highly effective in restoring losses in strength and balance following a CES diagnosis. Regular physical activity can also be helpful when it comes to improving circulation and blood flow to the lower extremities -- a common problem for those living with this condition. Consistent exercise can boost mood and decrease symptoms of depression, making it a must for those diagnosed with CES.

Incorporating Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercises, such as walking, biking and swimming are often recommended for CES patients. These types of exercises not only help to strengthen muscles and improve balance but are also effective in improving the functioning of the circulatory system. For best results, patients should walk, bike, swim, jog or hike for at least 30 minutes a day, five days per week. Individuals who are very weak or out of shape should start with five to 15 minutes per day and increase their time slowly to ensure optimal results.

Incorporating Strengthening Exercise

Resistance-training exercises, including hamstring curls, leg extensions and calf raises can also help to increase strength and endurance. Cauda equina syndrome patients should perform two to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions of these exercises once or twice per week. Space these resistance-training sessions out during the week to allow the muscles adequate amounts of recovery time.

Maintaining Safety

Ensuring safety during exercise is crucial for those who are living with CES. Often, patients will be encouraged to work with an occupational or physical therapist for assistance in starting an exercise program. Patients may be required to attend several weeks of rehab therapy before they have been deemed healthy enough to engage in independent physical activity.

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