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The Best Pool Exercises for Spinal Cord Injury Patients

best pool exercises for spinal cord injury recovery

Pool exercises for spinal cord injury are a great way to practice physical therapy without added stress on your joints.

Sometimes a change in environment is exactly what you need to motivate you to keep going.

This article will go over some of the best exercises you can practice in the pool to boost leg function after spinal cord injury.

The Benefits of Pool Exercise

effective pool exercises for spinal cord injury

Pool exercises for spinal cord injury are effective because of 3 properties of water that cannot be replicated on land.

These 3 properties are:

  1. Buoyancy is what makes you feel so light in the water and what keeps you afloat. This will help relieve some pressure off your joints so that you can focus on your movements.
  2. Viscosity is how much resistance a fluid has and what makes it difficult to move quickly in the pool. This will help strengthen the muscles, and slow your body down if you fall.
  3. Hydrostatic Pressure is the force exerted by the water from all directions onto your body. It helps compress the body to reduce swelling and increase circulation.

Pool Exercises for Spinal Cord Injury

pool exercises for sci patients

When performing pool exercises for spinal cord injury, you want to really take advantage of buoyancy, viscosity, and hydrostatic pressure by practicing your exact movements and form.

By doing this, you’ll get the most of your exercises in order to progress your exercises on land.

Try to keep your back straight and avoid leaning forward when looking down at your feet.

We highly recommend using a noodle or a floating board to help stabilize you in the water.

Let’s get into the pool exercises!

1) Wide-Based Steps

This first exercise is going to help you get used to walking in water.

To start, you want to create a wide base by standing with your legs far apart.

The further apart your legs are, the more stable your base will be.

Begin taking 10-15 steps forward and then 10-15 steps backward.

Make sure that your feet are facing forward and that at least one foot is always on the ground. You should not be hopping from one foot to the other.

Every time you return to your starting position, adjust your legs so that they’re slightly closer together and then take another 10-15 steps forward and back until your legs are a normal walking-width apart.

2) High Kicks

For this next pool exercise, you’re going to swing your foot forward, straighten the knee as you extend your leg up, and hold for a second or two before lowering your foot.

Alternate between each leg for 15-20 kicks.

This exercise will stretch your hamstrings, strengthen your lower body, and engage your core.

3) Side Steps

Start by holding onto the edge of the pool and cruise 15 steps to the right, then 15 steps to the left.

This is another exercise where the feet tend to start pointing to the side, so make sure that they’re always facing forward.

Once you get used to moving from side to side, you’re going to get away from the edge of the pool and practice side-stepping without holding onto anything.

Practicing side steps will encourage greater range of motion at the hip joint and strengthen crucial hip muscles that stabilize your pelvis.

4) Heel-to-Toe

For this next exercise, you’re going to focus on the mechanics of walking.

Practice walking in slow motion.

Exaggerate movements like the transition from heel to toe and the bending and straightening of the knees.

This exercise will help you understand the way your weight shifts as you walk.

5) Step-Ups

Most pools have built-in stairs and a rail to help you get in and out easily. This following exercise is going to utilize them.

Place your right foot onto the step and then press onto the right heel as you straighten your right knee and bring your left leg to meet your right. Feel free to hold onto the rail to help keep you balanced.

You should be pushing up with the leading leg, not the lower one.

As you step up, less of your body will be submerged in the water, so be prepared for the extra pressure on the joints.

Step back down and then alternate between legs.

Step-ups will help strengthen your quads (the muscles that make up the front of your thighs) and glutes.

Modifying the Exercises

pool safety and spinal cord injury

The functional outcomes of every spinal cord injury are going to be a little bit different based on the severity and location of the injury.

These pool exercises for spinal cord injury patients can easily be adjusted to suit your functional abilities.

To make them easier, you can:

  • perform them in deeper waters
  • reduce the number of steps you take
  • hold onto a floating board/ noodle
  • wear a life vest
  • slow down your movements

To make them more challenging, you can:

  • practice in shallower water
  • wear weighted cuffs for more resistance
  • perform more reps
  • increase speed

Pool Exercises for Spinal Cord Injury: Key Points

Exercising in a pool is a fun and effective way to strengthen the muscles without straining the joints.

It allows you to really focus on form and can make the transition to walking on land much easier.

Try these 5 pool exercises for spinal cord injury patients to see for yourself how much your walking can improve. Good luck!

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