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Exercises for the Wheelchair Users

Use of the wheelchair should not exempt the user from movement.  The wheelchair, predictably, can restrict the person from moving because of the limited space.  The wheelchair bound should, all the more, be encouraged to move, precisely because of this space restriction.  To optimize the wheelchair borne person’s movement, the wheelchair must be first of all, well fit to its user.  The back height, the seat width, the comfort, size, adequate support and correct positioning are all considerations in wheelchair prescription to attain the best wheelchair for the person.

A wheelchair exercise program should improve the person’s health and well-being. Sitting in a wheelchair for long periods of time can cause weakness, pain and ulceration from pressure points, deformities, discomfort and restlessness. A wheelchair exercise program can help increase strength, flexibility and muscle tone, prevent pressure sores and improve the person’s mood or disposition. Wheelchair exercises can also control weight. Regular exercise also aids breathing, digestion and elimination. Wheelchair exercises should be performed as often as possible. The minimum interval between exercising should be two hours, beyond which, there is increased risk of complications of prolonged sitting.

Before beginning the wheelchair exercise program, it is important to consult medical personnel, including the Rehabilitation Medicine doctor, for a program well – suited to the wheelchair user’s condition and needs.

Here are some recommended exercises for the wheelchair borne:

Forward Trunk Bends

  1. Slowly bend forward to lift the buttocks slightly off the wheelchair.
  2. The quickest way to relieve pressure from the back and the buttocks.

Neck Exercises

  1. Roll the head in circular motions, turn slowly to different directions
  2. May hold head in each direction to provide stretch of muscles of the neck and upper back.

Shoulder Exercises

  1. Bend elbows and make circles to rotate shoulders.
  2. May hold for a few seconds to prvide stretch to shoulder, chest and back muscles.

Trunk Bends

  1. Bend side to side slowly, feel the stretch of the side trunk muscles.
  2. Also for pressure relief and flexibility.

HIp and Knee Bends

  1. Bend hip and knees slowly.
  2. May hold for a few seconds to stretch muscles fo the buttocks and legs.

Foot and Ankle Motions

  1. Foot may be pointed up and down, side to side, and then in circles.
  2. Improves flexibility and circulation of the whole leg.

Sitting Push-Ups

  1. Push with hands and lift buttocks slightly off the wheelchair
  2. This would need good upper arm strength.

Breathing Exercises

  1. Inhale to your maximum, hold and release air slowly by exhaling slowly.
  2. To be performed during rest periods, in between other exercises.

Please ensure intake of a light meal and adequate water before exercising.  To ensure safty it would be best to perform these exercises with a caregiver nearby.  The exercises can be progressed or made more challenging by lifting weights with the arms or attaching weights to the legs.

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