You know how important it is to exercise after spinal cord injury, but how can you exercise if you have paralysis? Quadriplegic exercises consist mainly of passive range of motion and training of the upper body.
Quadriplegia results from trauma to the neck region and leads to paralysis in your lower and upper body.
There are varying degrees of quadriplegia depending on what part of your cervical spine you injure.
You might even be able to control movement but not feel, or vise versa.
The point is, although many people have quadriplegia, they don’t all share the same abilities.
Passive Range of Motion Quadriplegic Exercises
One type of exercise that all individuals with quadriplegia can do is passive range of motion exercise.
Passive range of motion exercise requires no exertion of energy from the patient.
Essentially, a physical therapist or caregiver will be facilitating your movements and making sure that your joints move to their full extent.
Everybody has to start somewhere and passive exercise is a great way for people with quadriplegia to maintain joint flexibility and promote circulation.
If you have can control some functions in your hands, wrists, and elbows, you can practice range of motion exercises without assistance.
We have an article all about passive range of motion exercises that you can check out for a full body workout and more details on the benefits of doing this type of exercise.
The best way to tell if you’re ready for more active forms of quadriplegic exercise is to be comfortable performing passive range of motion exercises on your own.
The Goal of Quadriplegic Exercises
The goal of quadriplegic exercises is to recover control over the upper body before the lower body.
First, we recommend these practical hand exercises. They help you develop strength and dexterity in your hands and wrists through everyday activities so that exercising doesn’t seem like a chore.
Here are a couple more quadriplegic exercises that focus on developing upper body strength and mobility.
Don’t worry about your speed and focus on technique. Speed will build with repetition.
- Neck Tilts: Tilt your neck so that your left ear moves towards your left shoulder and then do the same for your right side.
- Shoulder Raises: Lift your shoulders up and then bring them back down.
- Shoulder Rolls: Roll your shoulders forward and backward.
- Arm Rows: Put both arms straight in front of you and bend your elbows back.
- Arm Across Body: Bring one arm out across your chest and use your other arm to hold it there.
- Torso Twist: Gently twist your upper body to one side while keeping your lower body still.
- Arm Raises: Raise your arm towards the ceiling as high as you can.
- Arm Circles: Raise your arms to the side so that your body makes a “T” shape and move them in little circles forward and backward.
- Hallelujahs: Lift both arms out towards the sky.
- Arm Flaps: Make that “T’ shape with your arms raised to the sides and move them up and down.
- Palm Flips: Put your arm out straight in front of you with your palm faces down and then flip it so that your palm faces up.
- Finger Clenches: Make a fist and clench all your fingers together. Then, open your hand and stretch out your fingers as much as you can.
Quadriplegic Exercises Emphasize Movement
The point of quadriplegic exercises is to move often. It doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you’re using your body regularly.
There are lots of negative consequences of not moving your body such as blood clotting, pressure sores, and bone thinning.
If you can’t control your movements, it’s important to seek help and get someone to passively move your body for you.
This doesn’t mean you can idly sit around and until they finish moving your body. You should be focusing on the movements too and be alert for any changes in sensation or control.
You’re basically trying to reinforce the connection between your brain and body through repetition. This can promote circuit regeneration and help build new pathways between the two.
Can Nerve Fibers in the Spinal Cord Regenerate?
For a long time, it was believed that the neurons in the central nervous system were unable to regenerate.
Less than a year ago, scientists discovered that they could regenerate severed nerve fibers in mice and rats with complete spinal cord injury by “reactivating the genetic program for axons to grow, establishing a permissive environment for the axons to grow in, and creating a chemical slope that marks the path along with axon are encouraged to regrow.”
They used a great analogy to explain this phenomenon:
“If nerve fibers were trees, then the terminal branches of the axons can be viewed as the tree’s branches. If the main branches of the tree are cut, little branches may sprout spontaneously along the remaining trunk of the tree. But the cut branches do not grow back.”
The axon regrowth was able to transmit electricity, but because the mice and rats weren’t participating in physical rehabilitation training, they remained paralyzed.
This has yet to undergo human trials but shows lots of potential for reestablishing connections between the brain and body.
The Power of Repetition
Now imagine if those mice and rats participated in physical rehabilitation training and were able to create muscle memory through repetition.
It’s foreseeable that new axon generation in the spinal cord and locomotor training can bridge the gap between the brain and body.
While the science is still in progress, you can at least start on the physical training part.
You essentially have to teach yourself how to move all over again through lots of consistent practice
Your body won’t be able to recognize the movements without constant repetition.