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The Best Spinal Cord Injury Exercises (with videos!)

exercises for spinal cord injury patients

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.

After spinal cord injury, the neural circuits that relay messages between your brain and body are damaged.

Exercise is essential for recovery because it reteaches your body how to move again.

Task-specific training and lots of repetitions will stimulate axonal sprouting and circuit reconstruction.

In other words, the more you exercise, the greater your chances are of improving mobility.

Theses 12 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.

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!

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