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Best Paraplegic Exercises to Stimulate Paralyzed Legs

paraplegic exercises

Paraplegic exercises help stimulate the paralyzed lower body.

With paraplegia, you will have full control over your head, neck, shoulders, arms, and hands.

This means that you can perform passive range of motion leg exercises on your own!

Your legs may not be able to exert any energy, but your arms definitely can.

You can kill two birds with one stone by using your arms to perform these passive range of motion exercises for your legs!

Passive Range of Motion Paraplegic Exercises

passive range of motion paraplegic exercises

Passive range of motion exercises are exercises that don’t require you to exert any energy because another force is moving your body for you.

They’re ideal for people with paralysis because even though they can’t control the movement, the movement itself stimulates the muscles, expands joint range of motion, promotes better circulation, and improves metabolic rate.

If you have paraplegia, you don’t need a caregiver to perform passive range of motion leg exercises for you because you’re perfectly capable of using your arms.

However, you will need a leg lifter or a resistance band to maneuver your legs.

Check out these 9 effective passive range of motion paraplegic exercises!

1. Side Leg Lifts

Slip the front half of your foot into the loop of your leg lifter.

Lie on your side so that the foot with the leg lifter is on top of your other leg.

Then, pull the strap of the leg lifter gently so that your leg raises to the side.

Stop pulling when you start to feel your body’s natural resistance and then hold the position to stretch your inner thigh.

Continue to lift and drop your leg about 15 times and then turn to your other side and repeat to the other leg.

2. Knees to Chest

Place the leg lifter on one foot and then lie down flat on your back.

Use one hand to slowly pull the strap of the leg lifter towards your upper body and the other to bend the knee as if moves up.

Once your knee reaches your upper body, use your arms to help keep it in place.

Hold the position for several seconds and then slowly straighten the knee as you bring the leg back down.

Bonus: Download our free SCI Rehab Exercises ebook. (Link will open a pop-up that will not interrupt your reading.)

3. Ankle Rotations

Go ahead and sit with one leg bent to the side so that you can easily reach your foot.

Use one hand to stabilize your ankle while you use the other to move your foot in circles.

Be sure to rotate clockwise and counterclockwise.

4. Ankle Pulls

Sit on the floor and place the leg lifter on one foot.

Make sure that the legs are straight and then slowly pull the strap towards your body so that your toes point towards the ceiling.

This is called ankle dorsiflexion, it the backward bending of the foot.

5. Hamstring Stretch

Just like the previous exercise, you’re going to want to sit on the floor and with the front half of your foot inside the leg lifter.

Then, pull the strap upward and toward your body so that the entire leg lifts.

Pull until you hit a little bit of resistance and then hold for 10-15 seconds.

6. Knee Extensions

Go ahead and grab a chair or get in your wheelchair for this next exercise (make sure to lock the wheels in place).

Place your foot into the leg lifter and then gently pull so that your knee straightens out.

Then, bring it back down and repeat 15 times before switching to the other leg.

Paraplegic Exercises Using Gym Equipment

exercises for people with paraplegia

If you have access to gym equipment, there are 2 machines that will completely elevate your workout routine and passively move your legs at the same time.

Those with incomplete spinal cord injuries may be able to recover movement by promoting neuroplasticity in the spinal cord.

The best way to activate neuroplasticity is through massed practice. The more you repeat a weak movement, the more you’re activating those neural pathways and the stronger they’ll get.

A Pilates reformer and seated elliptical can make it much easier to perform lots of repetitions.

7. Pilates Reformer

With a Pilates reformer, you can sit on a carriage that moves when you pull its handles.

You might want someone to help you transfer onto the machine the first couple of times to be safe.

Lie down on the carriage and place your feet on the foot bar. Your legs should be bent.

The foot bar is attached to the frame and does not move with the carriage.

Pull the handles with your arms. The carriage will slide to the other side and your legs will straighten out.

8. Seated Elliptical

A seated elliptical is also a great arm workout that can passively exercise your legs.

Because there’s a seat, you don’t have to bear any weight on your legs.

The machine connects your arm and leg movements so by swinging your arms back and forth, you’re also promoting cycling motions in the legs.

9. Pool Gait Training

If you have some control in your legs, consider getting into a pool.

The buoyant force of water will help keep you afloat and make you feel very light.

This removes a lot of pressure off the joints and allows you to practice standing and walking without bearing so much weight.

The deeper you’re submerged in water, the lighter you will feel. For example, it’s going to be a lot easier to move if the water goes up to your stomach than if it were to only go up to your knees.

Exercising with Paraplegia

paraplegic exercises after spinal cord injury

Physical activity is necessary to prevent extreme muscle atrophy, poor circulation, and stiff joints.

Eight of these paraplegic exercises don’t require any energy to be exerted by the legs, and all nine of them will help stimulate paralyzed legs.

We hope you try these exercises and see for yourself how effective they can be. Good luck!

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