Topic Overview

A
spinal cord injury (SCI) makes movement difficult.
Movement is what keeps your muscles and joints flexible and helps prevent
spasticity. If you cannot move your muscles and joints
easily, you may lose some of your
range of motion. This will make it harder to perform
daily activities, such as getting dressed or moving between your wheelchair and
another location. Flexibility exercises can help you retain your range of
motion.

Most people work hard to stay flexible. But it is possible
to stretch too much. This can make it harder to balance and to do activities
such as dressing yourself. Work with your rehabilitation team to come up with a
stretching program that is right for you.

You may be able to do
some of the flexibility exercises yourself. A loved one or therapist can help
you with others. It may be convenient to do your stretches in the morning or
evening at the same time you inspect your skin for
pressure injuries.

Self-stretches

When you do these stretches, make
sure you have something solid behind you that does not move. You can try the
stretches in your wheelchair (make sure it is firmly locked) or in a bed
against the headboard. Different locations might be better for different
exercises. Experiment to see what works best for you.

Do all
stretches gradually, and never force the stretch. Do not push or bounce the
stretch. You should feel a “stretch,” not pain. Breathe out as you begin the
stretch, and breathe in while you hold the stretch. Breathe out as you relax
the stretch.

How long and how often you do a stretch may vary. The
information below shows general guidelines. Always ask your doctor about what
is best for you.

  • Lie on your back and extend your arms straight out to the sides
    with your palms turned up to stretch the front of your chest. Stay in this
    position for at least 15 to 30 seconds, and repeat 2 to 4 times. Or you can
    just lie in this position for about 3 to 5 minutes if it is comfortable for
    you. You can also stretch the front of your chest when you are sitting in a
    chair or wheelchair. With the chair in a doorway, raise your arm to the side
    and bend your elbow. Put your hand and forearm against the doorway and lean
    forward to stretch your chest and the front of your shoulder. Hold the stretch
    at least 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat 2 to 4 times with each arm.
  • Lie
    on your back and raise your arms straight up and over your head to stretch your
    shoulders. Stay in this position for at least 15 to 30 seconds, and repeat 2 to
    4 times. Or you can just lie in this position for about 3 to 5 minutes if it is
    comfortable for you. You can also stretch your arms up over your head while you
    are sitting up.
  • Place your left hand or wrist under your left knee, and pull your
    left knee up toward your chest. Hold the stretch for at least 15 to 30 seconds.
    Repeat 2 to 4 times. Do the same exercise with your right hand and right
    knee.
  • Sit with your left knee bent up toward your chest. Put your
    left hand and lower arm on the left side (outside) of your knee. Gently push
    the knee toward your right leg. Do not force the stretch. Hold for at least 15
    to 30 seconds. Repeat 2 to 4 times. Do the same exercise with your right hand
    and right knee.
  • Sit with your left knee bent up toward your chest.
    Put your left hand and lower arm on the right side (inside) of your knee and
    gently push it away from your right leg. Do not force the stretch. Hold for at
    least 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat 2 to 4 times. Do the same exercise with your
    right hand and right knee.
  • Face a bed or chair that is about the
    same height you are sitting at. Put one leg on the bed or chair and keep it
    straight. Do not bend your knee. Do not bend forward as you do this, as it will
    stretch you too much. Hold this position for 3 to 5 minutes on each
    leg.
  • Sit with your legs stretched out in front of you. Lean
    forward, and loop a strap around the bottom of your foot. Pull on the strap
    gently, and continue to lean forward while keeping your knees straight. Do not
    turn your foot to either side. Hold this stretch for about at least 15 to 30
    seconds. Repeat 10 times.
  • Spend time lying on your belly each
    day. People with SCI who are sitting most of the time can get tight muscles in
    the front of their hips and the back of their legs. Lying on your belly with
    your legs stretched straight out will help stretch these muscles. Try to relax
    all your muscles and stay in this position for at least half an hour. Some
    people even learn to sleep on their belly, so they are in this position all
    night.

Passive stretch

A passive stretch is a stretch where
someone stretches a muscle for you. This type of stretch can be done for upper
and lower body muscles. Your rehab team will be able to teach a loved one how
to do these exercises. They include:

  • Flexing and extending the hip, knee, shoulder,
    wrist, fingers, and elbow.
  • Stretching the hamstring (the muscle on
    the back of the thigh) and foot and ankle muscles.
  • Rotating the hip
    and shoulder.

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD – Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica, MD – Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Nancy Greenwald, MD – Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Current as ofOctober 9, 2017