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Activities for Spinal Cord Injury Patients That Promote Recovery

fun and therapeutic activities for spinal cord injury patients

Because a spinal cord injury causes loss of motor control and sensation, it can be challenging to stay physically active. However, with an open mind and willingness to adapt, you may be surprised to discover that you can still participate in many activities after a spinal cord injury.

To help you develop a better idea of how individuals can incorporate more physical activity into their lives after SCI, this article will share 5 activities for spinal cord injury patients and their therapeutic benefits.

5 Best Activities for Spinal Cord Injury Patients

The best activities for individuals with spinal cord injuries are the ones that will keep you moving. Every movement stimulates the spinal cord, which helps promote adaptive changes in the central nervous system. Additionally, increasing your physical activity levels will help improve circulation, mood, sleep, and many other essential bodily functions.

Below is a list of some of the best activities for those with spinal cord injuries. However, this is not a conclusive list. Ultimately, you should participate in activities that you enjoy because those are the ones that will encourage the most long-term movement.

1. Go to the Pool

woman with spinal cord injury practicing exercises in a pool

Practicing movements in a pool is an excellent activity for spinal cord injury patients because water provides buoyancy. Buoyancy is the upward force exerted onto any object submerged in water. This is what makes you feel weightless when you’re in a pool.

As a result, individuals with spinal cord injuries can practice walking without placing too much pressure on their joints. Additionally, the natural resistance of the water will help strengthen and tone the muscles.

Further benefits include improved circulation from the pressure of water on the body, as well as loosened muscles and pain relief if exercising in warm water.

For a more intense pool activity, individuals with spinal cord injuries can try water aerobics. Start by working with a physical therapist in the pool (aquatic therapy) to learn safety tactics before attempting this on your own.

2. Practice Yoga

Following a spinal cord injury, communication between your mind and body gets disrupted. As a result, you may feel out of sync with your movements. Yoga is all about finding that connection between your mind and body, which makes it an ideal activity for spinal cord injury patients.

Additionally, yoga can be modified so that individuals with paralysis can safely participate in it. For example, the exercises can be performed from a wheelchair or on the floor.

Yoga is proven to reduce cortisol levels, which relieves stress and may help individuals cope after spinal cord injury.

3. Go Horseback Riding

Horseback riding can be an extremely beneficial activity for spinal cord injury patients who have sustained lower-level or milder injuries. In fact, there’s an entire rehabilitative therapy based on it called hippotherapy.

Hippotherapy is a therapist-guided activity that can help individuals develop a wide variety of motor and sensory functions including balance, proprioception, and coordination. Instructors will walk along each side of the horse to ensure your safety.

Horseback riding forces the rider to continuously engage their core to stay balanced. Because the activity is fun and engaging, individuals often don’t perceive it as exercise. This makes it easier for individuals to consistently practice developing their balance skills.  

4. Learn Archery

spinal cord injury patients can participate in many activities such as archery

Archery was one of the first sports to be used as a remedial exercise for individuals with paraplegia.

It trains the arms, shoulders, and trunk muscles, which is proven to help restore the ability to sit in an upright position with little to no support.

Additionally, archery is an activity that individuals with paraplegia can compete in just as well as any non-disabled person. Even individuals without sensation in the upper body can participate in archery by using a specialized glove or extension splint.

5. Practice Exercises with FitMi

fitmi home therapy device for spinal cord injury patients

Practicing exercises on the FitMi is an excellent form of physical activity for individuals with spinal cord injuries. It’s a gamified home rehabilitation device that encourages individuals to increase their daily movement.

By interacting with sensorized pucks, individuals are challenged to accomplish a certain number of repetitions within a given time frame.

It includes 40 therapist-recommended exercises that target the hands, arms, core, and legs. This makes it ideal for individuals with any level of spinal cord injury.

Learn more about FitMi Home Therapy »

What Are the Best Activities for Spinal Cord Injury Patients?

The best activities for spinal cord injury patients are the ones that they’ll actually want to do!

You may need to adjust how you do it, but a spinal cord injury should not discourage you from participating in all your favorite activities. Participating in the activities you love will help you stay positive and relieve stress after spinal cord injury.

We hope you explore some of the activities shared in this article to promote your SCI recovery. Good luck!

featured images: iStock/michaelpuche/Ridofranz

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