Many people who have disabilities that require a wheelchair may think that exercise isn’t a possibility for them. Quite the contrary – and it’s even more important to have a consistent exercise program if you’re a wheelchair user.
Here’s why: exercise can help prevent many problems that immobility can cause. Sitting in a wheelchair tends to sap your strength and endurance, and exercising can help prevent and alleviate that.
Sitting for long periods also causes muscular and joint pains, and exercises designed for wheelchair users to help mitigate the pain and discomfort.
Other problems wheelchair users face are a decreased range of motion, loss of bone or muscle mass, and a diminished balance. There are vital exercises developed to address all of these issues, as well as to help prevent injury by strengthening your core.
Developing Your Exercise Program for Wheelchair Use
While a wheelchair van can get you to your destination, it’s up to you to continue your journey with your wheelchair. Most people with limited mobility use a manual wheelchair, and the current estimates are that there are 1.5 million such users.
That means you will need to use your arms, shoulders, and upper body to push your chair along, so it makes sense to start your exercise program by strengthening those key areas.
Exercising these areas will help prevent the shoulder and arm pain, often associated with regular wheelchair use.
Exercise 1: Upper Body
Exercising the large muscle groups in the upper body is critical to avoid pain, strain, and stress on the joints and muscles. Begin by removing the chair’s armrests, and using a stick or broom handle, raise your arms above your head while keeping your arms straight.
Hold for approximately 5 seconds, then repeat this motion ten times.
Exercise 2: Resistance Bands
Those rubber resistance bands found in every physical therapy clinic can help wheelchair users strengthen their mid-back and upper arm muscles, as well as help to enhance their body’s core. You’ll need a hook or bar you can latch the band on to, about 3 feet above your head.
Sitting under the bar, grab the handles of the resistance band, one in each hand, and pull your hands together – then pull your elbows into your body; hold for a second or two, then return to the starting position.
Repeat this 15 times, doing it once daily.
Exercise 3: Sitting Push-Ups
In addition to strengthening your arms, shoulders, and chest, this exercise will also help take some pressure off of your legs. All you have to do is push down on the chair’s armrests, pushing yourself up until your arms are as straight as you can make them.
Then slowly lower yourself down until your back in the chair. Do ten push-ups, twice in one sitting.
Exercise 4: Stretches
The following is a group of stretching exercises you can do several times a day, without leaving your chair. It builds muscle tone while improving your flexibility, and is easy to do.
Sitting in your chair, shrug your shoulders, trying to roll your shoulders forward toward your head – hold for 10 seconds, then roll your shoulders back slowly.
Another exercise while sitting is to swing your arms at to swing your arms up and back on your sides, stretching as you swing. It is also a great warm-up exercise.
Finally, do stomach twists, by holding your elbows at your side and arms placed in front, twist at your waist by going left, then right.
There are many other exercises for wheelchair users that can help prevent injury while strengthening the body. These include swimming, hand cycling, and many others. Also, try doing knee lifts, starting with your feet on the ground and then lifting your knees in a marching-type motion. Go as high as you can for as long as you can.
Just remember that an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure when it comes to exercising. The more you can do to prevent injury, the healthier you’ll be.