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Simple Mat Exercises for Spinal Cord Injury Patients

practicing mat exercises for spinal cord injury recovery

What are the best mat exercises for spinal cord injury patients?

Mat exercises are great for spinal cord injury patients because they minimize the risk of falling and straining the joints. If you’re doing these in a clinic with a therapist, you will likely be using a mat table. However, if you’re planning to try them at home, make sure that you are strong enough to get on/off a mat on the floor safely (or have someone help you).

This article will share some ideal mat exercises that spinal cord injury patients can practice from home to tone the body.

Low- Impact Mat Exercises for Spinal Cord Injury Patients

The key to recovering motor function after spinal cord injury is to move. Physical inactivity can lead to unnecessary secondary problems like pressure ulcers, weight gain, reduced metabolic rate, poor circulation, and muscle atrophy.

The outcomes of every spinal cord injury are different, so be sure to check with your doctor to make sure these mat exercises are safe for your specific injury. Many of these exercises should only be done after any/all “spinal precautions” have been lifted.

Similarly, don’t feel discouraged if you can’t do some of these exercises. Focus on what you can do and modify what you can’t do.

Let’s get into the mat exercises:

1. Hamstring Stretch

Sit with your legs straightened and together in front of you.

Slowly lean forward toward your toes and hold for 15-20 seconds.

If you’re finding it difficult to stay balanced on this exercise, bend one knee so that the bottom of that foot is touching the side of your other thigh. This will create a more stable base, but you’ll need to stretch one hamstring at a time.

Then, lean towards the foot of your straightened leg.

Hold and then repeat to the other side.

2. Quadricep Stretch

While seated, bend each leg back so that your legs create a “W” shape.

Next, slowly lean back and then hold for 20-30 seconds. Each leg could also be stretched individually if bending both back at once is too much. Be careful not to over-stretch, especially if you have impaired sensation.

3. Calf and Hamstring Stretch

calf stretch mat exercises for spinal cord injury

Sit with one leg straight and the other bent to the side.

Place the foot of your straight leg on the center of a resistance band, belt, towel, or anything similar you have around and then grab each of the ends.

Gently pull on the ends (your toes should be pulling back) while keeping the leg straight.  

Hold for 15-20 seconds and then switch sides.

4. Child’s Pose

childs pose mat exercises for spinal cord injury

Begin sitting on your knees.

The knees should be spread slightly apart. The further apart your knees are, the more you’ll stretch your hips and thighs.

Put your arms out straight in front of you and then bow forward.

Hold for 20-30 seconds.

5. Trunk Twist

Lie on your back with knees together and bent so that your feet are flat on the mat.

Slowly tilt your knees to one side. Your shoulders should not move and stay on the mat the entire time.

Hold for 20-30 seconds and then tilt to the other side.

6. Knee Push-Ups

Get on your hands and knees and move your hands and upper body forward so that your back slopes all the way to your knees.

Face the floor and bend your elbows to a 90° angle to lower your body.

Push against the ground, straightening your elbows to raise yourself back up.

To make this more challenging, lift your feet off the floor.

7. Bicycle Kicks

Lie on your back. Raise and bend the right leg while the left leg is extended.

Then, make pedaling motions with your legs, as if riding a bike. The legs should alternate between bending and extending.

8. Cobra Stretch

cobra stretch spinal cord injury mat exercises

Start off lying on your stomach.

Then, use your arms to prop your upper body up. You should be on your palms with elbows straightened.

Your lower body should remain on the floor so that your body creates a slope.

Hold for 15-20 seconds. This mat exercise will help gently stretch your lower back and core. If you feel any pinching or pain in your lower back, stop immediately.

9. Superman

Lie on your stomach with your arms out front.

Next, lift your arms, legs, and head up so that you’re primarily balancing on your torso.

Make sure that your arms and legs remain straight and focus on stretching them outwards.

Hold for 10-15 seconds.  

10. Hip Raises

Lie on your back with your knees bent so that your feet are flat on the mat.

Slowly lift your hips but keep your shoulders, arms, and head on the mat.

Hold for 5 seconds and then lower your hips. Repeat 10 times.

11. Single-Leg Raise

leg raise mat exercise for sci

Lie on your right side and raise your left foot up towards the ceiling as high as you can.

Hold the stretch for a few seconds before lowering your leg and then repeat 10 times for each side.

This exercise will help stretch out your inner thigh and reduce hip joint stiffness. It will also strengthen your gluteus muscles.

12. Leg Scissors

Lie flat on your back and raise your legs.

Cross your right leg over your left, uncross, and then cross your left leg over your right.

The bottom half of your legs (from the knees down) should never touch each other.

Understanding Mat Exercises for Spinal Cord Injury Patients

Hopefully, you try these 12 mat exercises for yourself.

They’re perfect for spinal cord injury patients because they limit stress on the joints, stretch the muscles, and promote overall mobility. Good luck!

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Depending on the severity of your spinal cord injury, there may be hope for improved mobility. Consistent at-home therapy is key to making this happen.

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