Physical Activity for People with a Spinal Cord Injury

Physical activity is something that most of us take for granted. We use our bodies and move around without even thinking twice about it. But for people with a Spinal Cord Injury (SCI), physical activity can seem like an impossible task. However, it is crucial for their overall health and well-being. 

In this blog, we will delve into the world of physical activity for people with spinal cord injury and how it can improve their quality of life. So whether you have a spinal cord injury or know someone who does, keep reading to learn about the benefits of staying active and how it can change lives. 

Benefits of physical activity for people with SCI

Let’s explore the numerous physical and psychological benefits of regular physical activity for people with SCI and why it should be an integral part of their daily routine.

  1. Improved cardiovascular health

Individuals with SCI often have impaired cardiovascular function due to decreased muscle mass and reduced physical activity. Regular physical activity can help improve and maintain cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Additionally, it can also help prevent blood clots, which are a common complication for people with SCI.

  1. Muscle strength and endurance

Spinal cord injury can lead to muscle strength and mass loss, reducing endurance and increased fatigue. Regular exercise, precisely strength and resistance training, can help increase muscle mass and improve overall muscle strength. This allows individuals with SCI to regain their physical abilities and makes daily activities such as transfers and wheelchair propulsion easier.

  1. Weight management

People with SCI often struggle with weight management due to a reduction in energy expenditure and the tendency to lead a more sedentary lifestyle. Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of health complications such as heart disease and diabetes. Physical activity can help individuals with SCI maintain a healthy weight and reduce their risk of these conditions.

  1. Improved bone health

Bone density can decrease rapidly in individuals with SCI due to the lack of weight-bearing activities. This can increase the risk of bone fractures and other bone-related problems. Physical activity, particularly weight-bearing exercises, can help improve bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

  1. Mental health benefits

Living with a spinal cord injury can have a significant impact on an individual's mental health. Depression, anxiety, and social isolation are common among people with SCI. Regular physical activity can help alleviate the symptoms of these conditions and improve overall mood and self-esteem. It can also provide a sense of accomplishment and empowerment, benefiting individuals with SCI.

  1. Stress relief

Physical activity releases endorphins, also known as the "feel-good" hormones, which can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being. This is especially important for people with SCI, who may experience higher levels of stress related to their injury and the challenges it brings. Engaging in regular physical activity can help promote relaxation and reduce stress levels.

  1. Prevention of secondary health complications

People with SCI are at a higher risk of secondary health complications, such as respiratory infections, bladder and bowel dysfunction, and pressure ulcers. Regular exercise can help prevent or manage these complications, improving overall health and quality of life.

If you or a loved one have an SCI, do not hesitate to consult with a healthcare professional to create a personalized exercise plan and start reaping the physical and mental benefits of staying active.

Types of physical activity for people with SCI

There are various types of physical activity that people with SCI can engage in depending on their injury level, severity, and overall health condition, and here are some of those:

  1. Cardiovascular exercise

Some examples of low-impact cardiovascular exercises that people with SCI can engage in include using a stationary hand bike, wheelchair rolling, or swimming. These activities can be modified to suit the individual's level of injury and fitness level, making them accessible to everyone.

  1. Strength training

One of the most common types of strength training for people with SCI is weightlifting using resistance bands or machines that target specific muscle groups. Working with a physical therapist to design a strength training program suitable for the individual's injury level and muscle strength is essential.

  1. Flexibility and stretching exercises

Some examples of flexibility exercises include stretching, yoga, or pilates. These exercises can be done with or without the assistance of a physical therapist, depending on the individual's level of injury.

  1. Balance and coordination activities

Balance and coordination exercises for people with SCI include functional activities like sitting to standing, standing in place, or using balance boards or stability balls. Again, these exercises can be modified based on the individual's level of injury.

  1. Mind-body exercises

For people with SCI, incorporating mind-body exercises into their routine can also improve body awareness, reduce spasticity, and promote relaxation.

Take back control of your life with the power of physical activity for spinal cord injury at NeuLife – the leading clinic that offers spinal cord injuries rehabilitation and rehabilitation for brain injury.

Considerations for safe physical activity with SCI

Due to SCI's unique challenges and limitations, it is essential to approach physical activity with caution and careful planning. Here are the top 5 considerations for safe physical activity with spinal cord injury.

  1. Consult with your healthcare team: Before starting any physical activity regimen, it is crucial to consult with your healthcare team. This includes your physician, physical therapist, and occupational therapist. They can assess your capabilities and recommend safe and practical exercises. They can also guide you on how to modify practices to accommodate your level of injury and any existing medical conditions.
  1. Choose the correct type of activity: Individuals with SCI should choose an activity that is safe and feasible for their level of injury. Low-impact exercises such as swimming, wheelchair sports, and resistance training are often recommended as they minimize the risk of further injury. It is essential to start with low intensity and gradually increase the duration and intensity of the activity. This will help prevent muscle strains and other injuries.
  1. Be mindful of your surroundings: Individuals with SCI may have limited sensation and function in certain body parts. This can make it challenging to sense environmental hazards such as uneven surfaces, curbs, and objects in the way. It is essential always to be mindful of your surroundings and choose a safe and accessible exercise environment. Additionally, if you are using assistive devices such as a wheelchair, make sure they are well-maintained and checked for safety before each use.
  1. Use proper form and technique: Having adequate form and practice during physical activity is crucial for individuals with SCI. Improper form can strain the muscles and joints, which can be particularly harmful for individuals with limited mobility. Working with a physical therapist or trainer with experience working with individuals with SCI is essential to learn the proper form and technique for your chosen exercises. They can also help you find adaptive equipment to maintain an appropriate form.
  1. Listen to your body: As with any physical activity, it is essential to listen to your body. If you experience pain or discomfort, it is necessary to stop the activity and consult with your healthcare team. It is also important to pace yourself and take breaks as needed. Pushing through pain or fatigue can increase the risk of injury. Remember to stay hydrated and breathe appropriately during exercise to avoid overexertion.

Start your recovery with NeuLife Rehab!

Take control of your recovery journey and enhance your quality of life with NeuLife's post-acute rehabilitation programs for people with spinal cord injury. Through tailored physical activity plans, our expert team will guide and support you in regaining strength, independence, and confidence.

Aside from that, we also offer industry-leading neuro rehabilitation, helping to support those recovering from brain injuries and spinal cord injuries. Our tailored approach is designed to address each individual's unique needs, maximizing their potential for recovery.

Don't let your injury hold you back. Join us at NeuLife and experience the power of physical activity in overcoming obstacles and achieving your goals. Contact us to start your personalized program and embrace a fulfilling life after a spinal cord injury.


The material on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.


Dedicated to providing the highest caliber of care to individuals with brain injuries, NeuLife Rehabilitation is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF).
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