Mat exercises for spinal cord injury survivors are ideal because a mat helps lower the risk of falling or straining the joints. Rehabilitation exercise is an important element in spinal cord injury recovery that should be performed on a consistent basis to promote neuroplasticity (central nervous system’s ability to rewire itself) and improve mobility.
After a spinal cord injury, survivors may struggle with movement and sitting up-right due to decreased strength in the core muscles. Mat exercises are a good stepping stone for developing core strength and improving posture, especially for individuals using a wheelchair.
To ensure your safety during spinal cord injury exercises, we’ve gathered 10 of the most effective mat activities for spinal cord injury, including exercises for patients with hemiplegia (paralysis on one side of the body) or paraplegia (paralysis of the lower limbs) to do at home.
Benefits of Exercising on a Mat After Spinal Cord Injury
Mats provide many benefits during exercise, especially after a spinal cord injury. Mats can make it smoother to exercise because of its protective layers such as reducing the risk of falling or further injury. Studies have also shown that performing core exercises on a mat can help improve spine stability and increase the control of the affected limbs.
Each type of mat has their own unique benefits. For example, a pilates or yoga mat is a non-slip mat that provides cushioning and stability for the body, helping prevent injury and falling. Exercise mats also provide extra cushion to the body and help prevent muscle aches and pains while exercising.
Other factors that make mats an extra popular essential item for exercise include portability, easy to clean, and affordability. Most are light-weight, sweat-resistant, and durable meaning they can last you all throughout your spinal cord injury recovery journey.
Choosing the Right Mat for Spinal Cord Injury Exercises
Choosing the right mat for spinal cord injury exercises is essential. To find the most suitable one for you, it helps to take into account a couple of factors including what type of workouts you are aiming for.
For instance, exercise mats usually provide more support for advanced or higher intensity workouts, while yoga or pilates mats tend to focus on improving balance and grip, both which are extremely important. In fact, studies indicate that the most effective workout mat is one that provides balance, grip, and comfort.
When buying a mat after spinal cord injury, it helps to keep in mind the:
- Intended use: Think about the types of exercises you want to perform and what goals you want to accomplish such as building core strength or improving grip. The muscles you want to target can help determine what mat is most suitable for you.
- Size of the mat: Shorter mats can help with core exercises and stretching, and longer mats can help with other workouts. Also take into account the thickness of the mat. Thinner mats are lighter and easier to transport, but thicker mats provide more cushion and support after a spinal cord injury.
- Durability: Some mats are easier to clean and offer more traction and durability depending on the materials, such as protective coating and resistance against shoes, equipment, odor, and wear.
Lastly, an ideal mat is one that can easily be transported between your home and your out-patient therapy sessions. The more light-weight and easier to roll it is, the more it helps prevent shoulder and back pain. Additionally, having a mat that is quick and simple to use is essential during your home exercise program for spinal cord injury recovery.
Mat Exercises for Spinal Cord Injury Survivors
Exercise after a spinal cord injury is crucial to stimulate the central nervous system and activate neuroplasticity, which helps strengthen the neural pathways that may have been affected after a spinal cord injury.
Exercising and moving the affected muscles as much as possible is key to activating neuroplasticity and improving overall function. When neglected, lack of activity can increase the risk of complications after spinal cord injury such as pressure ulcers, weight gain, reduced metabolic rate, poor circulation, and muscle atrophy.
To lower the risk of complications, it’s important to perform in high repetition of exercises, or massed practice. Practicing a skill consistently will train the nervous system to recognize that skill and strengthen its neural pathways.
However, do not feel discouraged when performing any mat exercises for spinal cord injury. Every spinal cord injury is different as well as the outcomes. Remember the goal is to feel challenged but not frustrated.
Many of the mat exercises can be modified and adjusted to your ability level. Your therapist is also a great resource and can provide you with more mat exercises tailored to your condition; and the following mat exercises should be performed only with your therapist’s approval.
Here are 10 effective mat exercises for spinal cord injury:
1. Trunk Twist
For this first mat exercise for spinal cord injury, begin by lying on your back with your knees together and bent. With your feet flat on the mat, slowly tilt your knees to one side. Your shoulders should not move and stay on the mat the entire time. Hold for 20-30 seconds and then tilt to the other side.
2. Bicycle Kicks
Lying on your back, raise and bend the right leg while the left leg is extended. Then, make pedaling motions with your legs, as if riding a bike. The legs should alternate between bending and extending.
3. Hip Raises
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the mat. Slowly lift your hips but keep your shoulders, arms, and head on the mat. Hold for 5 seconds and then gently lower your hips. Repeat 10 times.
4. Single-Leg Raise
Lie on your right side of the body and raise your left foot up towards the ceiling as high as you can. Hold the stretch for a few seconds before lowering your leg. Repeat 10 times alternating with the other side. This exercise will help stretch out your inner thigh, reduce hip joint stiffness, and strengthen your gluteus muscles.
For this mat exercise, lie on your stomach with your arms out front. Lift your arms, legs, and head up until you’re primarily balancing on your torso. Make sure that your arms and legs remain straight and focus on stretching them outwards as much as you can. Hold for 10-15 seconds.
6. Cobra Stretch
In the same position, lying on your stomach, use your arms to prop your upper body up. You should be on your palms with elbows straightened. Your lower body should remain on the floor, creating a slope with your body. Hold for 15-20 seconds. This mat exercise will help gently stretch your lower back and core. If you feel any pinching or pain in your lower back, stop immediately.
7. Quadricep Stretch
In a seated position, bend each leg back to create a “W” shape with your legs. Next, slowly lean back and hold for 20-30 seconds. Each leg could also be stretched individually if bending both back at once is too challenging. Be careful not to over-stretch, especially if you have impaired sensation.
8. Hamstring Stretch
Sit with your legs straightened and together in front of you. Slowly lean forward toward your toes and hold for 15-20 seconds. For more balance, bend one knee so that the bottom of that foot is touching the side of your other thigh. This will create a more stable base, but you’ll need to stretch one hamstring at a time. Then, lean towards the foot of your straightened leg. Hold and then repeat with the other side.
9. Calf and Hamstring Stretch
Sit with one leg straight and the other bent to the side. Place the foot of your straight leg on the center of a resistance band, belt, towel, or anything similar you have around and then grab each of the ends. Gently pull on the ends (your toes should be pulling back) while keeping the leg straight. Hold for 15-20 seconds and then switch sides.
10. Knee Push-Ups
This advanced exercise may require more strength and mobility. Only perform if you feel comfortable. To start, get on your hands and knees and move your hands and upper body forward, creating a slope in your back all the way to your knees.
Facing the floor, bend your elbows to a 90° angle to lower your body. Push against the ground, straightening your elbows to raise yourself back up. For an added challenge you can lift your feet off the floor.
While the mat exercises vary in intensity and difficulty, they can all be adjusted to your ability level. Remember to only do what you can and take breaks or stop when necessary. Also, be sure to consult with your doctor and/or therapist to check if the mat exercises above are safe and suitable for your condition.
Promoting Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Through Exercise
Motor control (mobility) is often impaired after a spinal cord injury, the severity of which depends on the type of injury (incomplete vs. complete) and level of injury. With a complete SCI, survivors do not preserve movement or sensation below the level of injury.
However, with an incomplete SCI there are usually some movement and sensory neural pathways remaining, which are capable of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity helps strengthen these existing pathways and create new ones.
Still, it’s important for survivors with a complete spinal cord injury to perform mat exercises to promote proper blood flow and improve oxygen consumption. For individuals with an incomplete spinal cord injury, mat exercises are essential to activate neuroplasticity and restore mobility in the affected limbs. The more you practice, the higher the chances of regaining overall function.
Effective Mat Exercises for Spinal Cord Injury
Though it may seem like just another piece of exercise equipment, mats are incredibly useful and versatile. Various types of mats provide their own unique benefits, making it an attractive therapy tool for spinal cord injury survivors.
Exercising after a spinal cord injury can be challenging for a number of reasons, including lack of strength. Fortunately, mats help survivors exercise more freely by limiting stress on the joints, stretching the muscles, and increasing core strength.
We hope this article helped you understand the importance of exercising, benefits of using a mat, and encouraged you to engage in mat exercises for spinal cord injury.
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