We’ve put together a home exercise program for spinal cord injury patients!
It’s full of exercises you can do from the comfort of your own home. In fact, most of them are wheelchair-friendly!
Full Body Home Exercise Program for Spinal Cord Injury Patients
This home exercise program for spinal cord injury will help you get your daily exercise and promote plasticity through repetitive movements.
Remember that all these exercises can and should be adjusted to suit your abilities. Additionally, some of these exercises will only be safe after any and all “spinal precautions” have been lifted, so please consult with your doctor or therapists if you have any questions about this.
Don’t feel discouraged if you can’t perform a certain exercise. Every spinal cord injury is different so you can’t expect everyone’s abilities to be the same.
Any movement is better than no movement, so just try your best!
Stretches for SCI Recovery
Well-stretched muscles and flexible joints will help prevent strain and injuries.
SCI sometimes causes our muscles to tighten up and the best way to prevent that is to stretch and move our joints through their full range of motion.
Try to hold your stretches for 30 seconds.
Stretching should not be painful. Gently pull, but never force anything against your body’s natural resistance.
- Neck Tilts: Tilt your head so that your right ear approaches your right shoulder. You should feel the stretch in the left side of your neck. Do the same thing towards your left, front, and back.
After performing these stretches, slowly rotate your neck in circular motions a few times and then switch directions.
- Posterior Shoulder Stretch: Put one arm out in front of you and keeping it straight, move it across your chest. Bending your other arm at the elbow, use it to support the straight arm and gently pull it close to the chest. This will help stretch the back part of your shoulders.
- Overhead Shoulder Stretch: Raise both arms above your head and bend one of your elbows behind your head. Then, place your other hand on your elbow and gently pull down.
This will help stretch your triceps and deltoids.
- Wrist Flexion: Hold one arm out in front of you with your palm facing down.
Using your other hand, bend your wrist down so that your hand and forearm create a 90-degree angle. Gently grab the back of your palms and pull inwards towards your body.
- Wrist Extension: Just like the last exercise, hold one arm out in front of you with your palm facing down. Then, using your other hand, grab the palm and pull upwards then back. If your injury is at the C6 or C7 level and you are working on a “functional tenodesis grasp” (using your intact wrist motion to help with finger grasp), then please make sure that you leave your fingers bent while performing this stretch.
- Trunk Twist: Lay flat on your back and move one leg across the body. Your other leg should be straight and under the crossed leg. Keeping your shoulders flat, try to keep the leg crossed level to the hips. You should feel the stretch in your lower back.
- Lateral Stretch: Without moving your legs, lean your torso to the side. You should feel a stretch on the opposite side. If you have impaired trunk control, make sure to hold onto something for support or have someone spot you for this stretch.
- Hamstring Stretch: Use a chair or something similar to raise one leg off the ground. This leg should be straight. Then, lean forward towards that foot without hunching your back.
- Calf Stretch: If you’re able to stand, place both arms on a wall and move one of your legs a large step back. Try to get the heel of that foot as close to the ground as possible. You should feel the stretch in the back of your calf. If you’re in a wheelchair, you can try putting your toes up a wall (while keeping your heel on the ground), and leaning toward that leg to get a similar calf stretch.
- Quadricep Stretch: Before you start this stretch, make sure you have something to hold onto for balance. Then, bend one knee and bring your foot backward (lifting your foot off the ground). Grab your foot with one hand and use the other hand to stabilize yourself. Gently pull your foot closer to your body. If you’re not able to stand or your balance is not good enough for this stretch, it can also be done lying down. If it’s comfortable for you, lay face down on a bed or couch, bend one knee bringing your foot up towards the ceiling, and have a caregiver or family member apply light pressure downwards (they would be pressing your shin area downwards toward the bed). You should feel the stretch in your thigh muscle.
Arm Strengthening Exercises for SCI
As a general suggestion, try to perform each of these exercises 10 times before switching directions or moving on to the next exercise.
If you’d like to add more muscle resistance, use a free weight (dumbbell) or cuffed weight.
- Shoulder Rolls: Keep your arms relaxed at your sides and rotate your shoulders forward (make shoulder circles). After a few repetitions, switch directions and rotate your shoulders backward.
- Shoulder Press: Have both your arms spread out to the side so that you’re making a “T” formation. Then, bend your elbows up at a 90-degree angle so that your palms are facing forward. Move your hands up to the ceiling, straightening your elbows and bring them back down to 90-degrees.
- Shoulder Shrugs: Shrug your shoulders up and then relax them back down.
- Rowing Motions: Row row row your boat… Bring your arms forward and then push them back towards your body.
- Swimming Strokes: There are so many different swimming strokes: the breaststroke, backstroke, freestyle, butterfly, etc. They work your shoulders, arms, and extend your range of motion.
- Arm Curls: Keep your arms straight at your sides and then bending your elbow, bring your forearm up so that your hand approaches the shoulder. Then, lower it back down to your starting position.
- Ladder Climbs: Pretend that you’re climbing a ladder! Make sure that your elbows bend and then straighten out.
- Arm Circles: Put your arms out to the side so that your body makes a “T” shape. Then move your arms in circular motions forward and backward. You can also alternate between making large circles and little circles.
- Lateral Raises: Raise and lower your arms at your sides like a bird trying to fly!
- Jogging Arms: Pretend that you’re going on a jog or run and make sure that your arms are swinging to help build momentum.
- Pretend You’re Dribbling a Basketball: …or even better, actually dribble a basketball!
- Karate Chops: Hi-yah! Make sharp, quick chopping motions with your arms. Try to focus on bending and extending your elbows.
Leg Strengthening Exercises for SCI
Just like the arm exercises, try to perform 10 reps for each leg before moving onto the next exercise and add weights to increase difficulty.
- Kicks: Sit with your legs bent at a 90-degree angle. Then, kick one foot up and straighten your knee as much as you can.
- Hip Flexion: Alternate lifting your knees as if you’re marching.
- Hip Adduction: Place a ball between your knees and bring your legs together to squeeze it.
FitMi, Your All-In-One Home Exercise Program for Spinal Cord Injury
Exercising with a PT and exercising at home is completely different because at home, you’re all on your own and need to hold yourself accountable.
This is where FitMi can help. It’s an interactive home exercise program that keeps you engaged so that you can perform lots of repetition.
A couple of hours doing physiotherapy is not enough! FitMi can be done at home, on your own time, for as long as you want.
FitMi is great for those at any level of recovery. It keeps you motivated by tracking your progress. The better you get, the more levels you can unlock.
It’s the ultimate home exercise program for spinal cord injury patients!
Stay safe and work at your own pace. Good luck!