The Best Spinal Cord Injury Exercises (with videos!)

The Best Spinal Cord Injury Exercises (with videos!)

How are spinal cord injury exercises different from other exercises?

They’re specifically designed to prove that paralysis doesn’t have to hold you back.

Exercise is essential for recovery because it helps keep your body in tip-top condition.

Theses 9 spinal cord injury rehabilitation exercises will make you feel happier, help regulate your weight, and keep your bones and muscles strong.

Passive Range of Motion Exercises

The goal of passive exercise if to expand your range of motion without exerting energy.

How do you exercise without exerting energy? With the assistance of a physical therapist or caregiver.

You want to make sure that you’re regularly doing passive exercises to your paralyzed limbs to make sure they stay limber.

The video below has lots of great passive exercises to practice.

Here are the 3 most important range of motion exercises for walking recovery:

1. Hip Abduction and Adduction


Weak hip muscles will negatively impact balance because your hips are responsible for bearing a lot of weight.

Without developed range of motion in the hips, you’ll likely walk with a wobble.

2. Knee Flexion and Extension


Your knees are the biggest joints in your body.

Practicing these motions will help familiarize your muscles with the swinging movements you make when you walk.

3. Ankle Plantar and Dorsal Flexion


Developing ankle movement is just as important for walking.

When your foot hits the ground, your ankle bends so that your foot can properly stabilize and support your weight.

Spinal Cord Injury Exercises for Legs

4. Stretching Paralyzed Legs

Wondering how to stretch your legs if you can’t feel the pull?

This video is super helpful and full of leg stretches that target various muscles in your legs.

You can do these stretches on your own with the help of a strap or elastic band.

Just be sure to pull gently to avoid accidents.

5. Straight Leg Lifts

Straight leg lifts will help you practice control and stability.

Raise each leg and hold it.

To amp up the difficulty, continuously raise and lower your leg without touching the surface you’re lying on.

Leg lifts help establish walking motions.

6. Ankle Pump Exercise

This ankle pump exercise is great for utilizing range of motion in your ankles.

It mimics the motions your ankles make when you walk.

You can also practice rotating your ankles in circles and switching directions clockwise and counterclockwise.

Practicing range of motion exercises for you ankles helps reduce your chances of rolling or spraining them.

Spinal Cord Injury Exercises for Hands

7. Range of Motion Hand Exercises

This video has 5 hand exercises to help practice range of motion.

If you don’t have enough control over your hands, use your other hand or a flat surface to help guide you.

8. Making O’s

MusicGlove hand therapy spinal cord injury exercises

The last video had to you making O’s, but MusicGlove takes it to the next level.

This interactive game helps improve hand function by making the repetition of movement enjoyable.

The best exercises are the ones that don’t even feel like exercise.

9. Hand Therapy Using Putty

This video will teach you how to develop your hand muscles using putty.

You squeeze the putty in different positions in 10-second intervals.

The putty adds resistance and stays imprinted to show which muscles in your hand are stronger and weaker.

Spinal Cord Injury Exercises for Core and Trunk

10. Seated Core Exercises

Here are some wheelchair-friendly spinal cord injury exercises that’ll help build your core.

Developing a strong core will benefit the entire trunk because they’re interconnected.

Practicing core exercises will help straighten your posture and improve your balance.

11. Planks

Have someone help you get in a plank position and balance yourself using your arms as a base.

By moving side to side and up and down, you’re developing various trunk muscles.

12. Crunches and Jabs

This is a great video to work your core and arms.

You will need a stool, exercise ball, and weights (optional).

Make sure that the exercise ball is stabilized and will not roll away behind you.

The exercise ball will help support your back to relieve impact on your spine.

Alternate your punches. By aiming your punches more towards the side opposite of your arm, you will be twisting your trunk further and have a more effective workout.

Benefits of Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Exercises

Now that you’ve learned what some of the best spinal cord injury physical therapy exercises are, you probably want to know why you should practice them.

Here are 3 benefits that’ll help you see the big picture:

Weight Regulation

After spinal cord injury, you lose bone and muscle density because you’re not using your body the way you used to.

This will cause you to lose weight; however, reduced activity could easily make you gain all that weight and more back.

If you eat the same amount as you did before your injury, you’re likely to be eating more calories than your body burns.

Exercise will help reduce those extra calories so that you can eat without the worry.

It will also help you rebuild your muscles and overall body composition.

Muscle Fluidity

Spinal cord injury physical therapy exercises will best prevent your chances of experiencing spasticity

Spasticity is when damage to the spinal cord leads to tightness, spasms, and pain to your muscles below the injury.

The most important component to treating and preventing spasticity is to regularly exercise.

Now you might be thinking “how can I exercise my legs if I can’t control them?”

Not all spinal cord injury physical therapy exercises have to be strenuous.

Ever heard of passive exercise? With the help of a therapist, you can practice moving your paralyzed limbs to their full range.

Yes, this is exercise! These movements may not seem like much, but they are extremely effective for reducing stiffness.

We have an article all about spasticity after spinal cord injury with other treatments that pair well with exercise.

Improved Mental State

Following these spinal cord injury rehabilitation exercises will help boost your mental state and keep you positive for recovery,.

Exercise can heal your mind too!

Spinal cord injury can cause depression because a lot of people don’t think they’ll ever be able to live a normal life again.

To clear things up, many people learn to adjust and find happiness doing all the things they did before.

The best immediate benefits of spinal cord injury rehabilitation exercises are reduced stress and improved energy. This helps you stay positive and motivated for recovery.

Exercise is addictive because the more you start to see results, the more dedicated you become towards healing from spinal cord injury.

Adjusting Spinal Cord Injury Physical Therapy Exercises

spinal cord injury rehabilitation exercises will help you develop muscle memory over time

Spinal cord injury recovery is a spectrum.

Your injury is completely unique to you so don’t feel discouraged if you aren’t able to do an exercise.

It’s like a game. You can’t move on to the next level until you’ve mastered the basics.

Get creative and adjust any of these spinal cord injury exercises to your abilities.

It doesn’t matter where you start. Just think about where you could be with some time and effort.

Repetition is key. It’ll help your body recognize the movements and gradually, they’ll become easier to do.

Stay positive and work hard. Good luck!