Spinal cord injuries can be chronic and long-lasting. Although the spine, just like any other part of the body, can actually repair itself to some degree, it does tend to cause long-term mobility and pain problems.
I had a spinal cord injury a few years back, and it took a while to really get over it. I was in a car crash way back in my old town, and they thought I had what was known as spinal concussion, but it didn’t go after a few weeks.
It turned out that I had some minor nerve damage in the spinal column between my shoulder blades up into my neck, directly as a result of the whiplash of the accident.
Now, this was tough to deal with, and especially as I was a regular gym-goer, it put a stop to my exercise routines for several months.
I clawed my way back by gently working on the weakened areas, and strengthening my core gently over several months. I also used some supplements to aid my progress.
I’m going to talk you through everything you need to know now about cervical spine injury in athletes, and gym users, and what you can do about it without causing additional stress and potential damage.
The Importance Of Exercising After A Spinal Cord Injury
It probably hasn’t escaped your attention that if you injure yourself then you need to exercise to get your strength back. If you let things fester then the journey is harder because your muscles start to weaken and disappear.
It’s the same with a spinal cord injury. It cannot be fully reverse, but the spinal cord can adapt well.
It does this through something called neuroplasticity. This is how the central nervous system can rewire itself to learn new functions through neural pathways.
But neuroplasticity is limited. You’ll never completely heal the original problem. However, it is possible to significantly limit the impacts of even a serious spinal cord injury by doing the right exercises.
Focus On Passive Range Of Motion Exercises
No matter what your injury, as long as it’s not complete, you should be able to do passive range of motion exercises. If you’re in real pain, even on painkillers, this is where I would advise you to start.
Passive range of motion does not require stress or exertion. In worst-case scenarios, therapists or other trained people will actually do the movements for you. It’s simply encouraging the body to take those movements.
So hopefully you won’t be that bad, but I know that I was in such discomfort when I had whiplash, that I did have to have simple arm and shoulder movements done for me through therapy for a few weeks.
However, you shouldn’t just do these range of motion exercises passively where possible. Even if you can only move a few muscles a small amount, the simple activation of the muscle can start to build strength, reprogram the pathways, and ease the pain.
Specialist Spinal Cord Injury Exercises Targeting The Legs
If you haven’t got mobility then you going to struggle to pretty much anything, let alone get back down the gym. That’s why you need to look at targeting the legs, even if your spinal injury doesn’t directly affect them.
It’s also about posture and power. If your legs are strong then they can take the pressure off other areas of the body, lessening the strain where you have actually hurt yourself.
Also, because leg movements are so strongly connected to the spinal cord and back, it will help to accelerate changes in the neural structure of the spinal cord.
Start by doing gentle warming up exercise on the legs, and never put any directional pressure on yourself. Keep yourself straight-backed and upright, so that you do not use the back to do any of the work.
Walking, gentle stretching, resistance bands; it doesn’t have to be technical or expensive. Just be gentle and build consistency.
Building Muscle After Spinal Cord Injury
This one was personal to me because a lot of my gained muscle wasted away after several weeks of doing nothing when I had my car crash.
Building muscle after spinal cord injury can be tough. That’s because you can’t get full range of motion, and you can’t work out every muscle group.
So start with the basics but make sure you do them progressively. Never do them in a way that puts pressure on the back, or any other damaged area, and start with gentle movements. You can even do the lifting motions without the weights, just start getting your body ready.
Then use the most ludicrously light dumbbells available. It really doesn’t matter; it’s just being progressive. Never pushing yourself too hard, making sure that you are getting better every week.
I will mention supplements here. SARMs can really strengthen bone and muscle tissue far faster than you can achieve naturally.
I’d used SARMs before, but I found that they really helped me to make more progress in redeveloping my muscle growth and strength. I had more energy, and I made progress faster than I think I ever could have done naturally.
Exercises For Your Core After A Spinal Cord Injury
Apart from your legs, your core is the crucial part of your body that you need to build to get back to full fitness and do the lifting you used to do.
Stabilizing your core can give you better posture, better balance, and take any overload away from the back. It allows you to do the exercises with proper form, and minimize your chance of aggravating the injury.
If your injury is bad, then you will have spinal precautions in place. This is where you are advised not to do certain movements at all.
If it isn’t that bad, then any gentle core exercises will do, as long as you mostly use your body weight, and you focus on keeping your spine straight. Working on your back muscles, working on those core muscles that keep you upright and straight, will really help you.
Even really gentle stuff like trunk rotations, trunk circles, simple stuff like that will really help over a few weeks with mobility and core strength.