An incomplete spinal cord injury may mean that you are still able to stand and bear weight through your legs, but will likely disrupt your sense of balance. To regain it, it’s essential to practice balance exercises for spinal cord injury patients.
Balance Exercises for Spinal Cord Injury
Balance exercises don’t have to be complicated. Practicing simple activities are a great way to boost balance after spinal cord injury, and just because an exercise seems simple does not mean it is “easy”!
Because simple exercises are less intimidating, you’re more likely to practice them. Recovery is all about repetition.
Continuous practice will stimulate and strengthen the connections between your body, brain, and spinal cord.
For the following exercises, it would be best to start them with the supervision of a therapist initially. That way, they can ensure your safety, give you tips about your positioning, and alert you when they think you’re ready to try them without help. Without further ado, here are 5 helpful balance exercises for spinal cord injury patients.
1. Hip Rotations
One of the best things you can do to improve balance after an incomplete spinal cord injury is get back on your feet, if you are able to do so safely.
Using a walker or parallel bars for support, practice swaying front and back, side to side, and in circles. This will help develop standing balance.
Make sure that you’re making these movements with your hips.
At first, you’ll rely more heavily on your arms to keep you balanced. However, try to gradually place more weight through your lower body to promote increased weight-bearing and strengthening for your legs.
2. Stance Variations
Your stance can significantly affect your balance.
Using a chair or countertop for support, try these different stances:
- legs far apart
- legs close together
- one leg crossed in front of the other
- toes pointed inward
- toes pointed outward
- one leg raised
A wider stance creates a more stable base while a narrower stance requires more balance.
If you’re unable to stand, try maintaining an upright sitting position without leaning on anything.
3. Fixing Posture
Practicing correct posture is essential for good balance.
Simply face forward, keep your shoulders level, and have your weight evenly distributed on both feet.
Sitting and standing with good form helps prevent unnecessary strain on your muscles and joints.
It also helps your organs function efficiently and makes it easier to breathe deeply, which can help increase brain activity.
Practicing good posture can be uncomfortable for some because of habitually remaining in poor postures, which require less muscular effort. However, the more you practice correct posture, the more natural it will feel.
Although it may not be problematic at the moment, poor posture will eventually lead to pain and malalignments in various parts of the body.
4. Aquatic Activity
It’s easier to develop a sense of balance in water because you don’t have to bear so much weight.
Go to the pool and take advantage of buoyancy (the force of water pushing you up). This is what makes you feel so much lighter in the water.
Ever noticed how much slower and gentler you fall in water than on land? That’s because of viscosity (the resistance of a fluid).
It provides extra security so that you can practice standing or walking without worrying about hurting yourself.
For a challenge, practice walking in a straight line as if you’re on a tightrope. The narrow distance between your legs makes it more difficult to stay balanced.
5. Balancing on a Stability Ball
Sitting on a stability ball is a great balance exercise for spinal cord injury patients who are ready for this challenge. It forces you to make micro-movements that constantly engage your core muscles.
A strong core is essential for building balance. When your core muscles are weak, it becomes difficult to sit upright without tilting or leaning against something. It also places more pressure on other muscles and joints, which can cause back pain.
There are lots of stability ball exercises you can practice to improve balance after spinal cord injury including:
- light bouncing
- side tilts
- leg raises
To be safe, make sure to hold onto a countertop or chair for extra support.
If sitting on a stability ball is still too challenging for you, you can also try sitting on a balance cushion/balance disc. Just place it on a sturdy chair (or a mat table if working in a clinic with a therapist) and sit on top of it to begin challenging your core muscles to assist with balance.
Improving Balance After Spinal Cord Injury
Balance takes time to develop, so trust in the process and keep practicing!
Try documenting your progress over time by keeping track of:
- how long you can maintain balance in a particular position
- the different positions you can maintain balance in
- how easy or difficult it is to stay balanced in a certain position
- how much upper body support you require
The more you practice these balance exercises for spinal cord injury patients, the easier they’ll get. Good luck!