Health and fitness are always huge topics, but with the COVID-19 situation, a lot of people are asking questions about staying fit while staying put. For some with disabilities and injuries, being out of physical therapy is not only mentally trying, but also physically difficult. It can really set you back. Today, I thought it might be helpful to talk about ideas for therapy at home. Please remember that none of this information is intended to serve as medical advice. It's based on personal experience and/ or research, and has nothing to do with a professional capacity or recommendation. (I'm a doctor, but not that kind of doctor; please, consult with your medical professional and/ or physical therapist for their suggestions and ideas.)
Today's post touches on information for exercising both the upper and lower parts of the body, especially fingers, hands, and toes. My past videos and posts have primarily focused on exercises for the lower body, and mostly for larger muscle groups. This is because my spinal cord injury occurred at the thoracic level. While it was catastrophic, there was no cervical spinal cord trauma or lasting neurological damage to my arms, hands, or fingers. It was a close call. In the accident that caused the SCI, I sustained very serious upper-body injuries, including a broken neck, broken ribs, and collapsed lungs. After being in Intensive Care and Critical Care, I had to relearn how to breathe and move again. Again, thankfully, the nervous system was intact to at least T10 despite many broken bones in the cervical area, so for me, respiratory therapy mainly involved using a spirometer (a topic for another post). Physical and occupational therapy had to wait. It never occurred to me how much muscle mass had vanished from my arms and hands until about the first day of being allowed to eat again. Wow, was that an eye-opener. I could hardly lift a small half-glass of water. Before then, I wouldn't have begun to be in any shape to think about maintaining muscle tone.
That was where Occupational Therapy came in. The routine with OT involved everything from stretching Therabands and lifting one-pound weights to measuring pinch strength of the thumb and index finger. By the time I left in-patient therapy, I could lift two-pound weights. Still, when I returned to school in August 2014 and was handed an iPad, that device alone felt impossibly heavy. My backpack was a supported pack with lumbar straps, and all I could tolerate in it was that iPad. Glasses of water were easier to lift than they had been, but books? I could barely lift a paperback, much less a typical textbook. Daily living became the best therapy. Without help for tasks during the day, I learned how to do small dishes, carry lightweight bags with a walker, and sit while transferring books between locations. By 2015, I was picking up huge books from the library and carrying them against a walker. (The triumph came on the day I hauled a Demotic Egyptian reference book back home and unfolded its life-size replica of the Rosetta Stone. I call that "The Day I carried the Rosetta Stone.")
Fortunately, with the exercises here, you don't have to be able to lift the Rosetta Stone (which is great, because even if you had access to it, the real thing weighs over 1600 pounds). And I've tried to do some of the "heavy lifting" for you with these links by giving some extra information.
Questions or suggestions? Please comment below! You can also learn more by subscribing to my YouTube channel.
Clever ideas for building hand strength after spinal cord injury:
flipping light switches, sorting small items like candy, popping bubble
wrap, turning the pages of a book, etc. Using a yo-yo or scissors makes
this list, and so do painting and sculpting.
CareFirstRehab: A resource for stretching and strengthening your hands after injuries, this page has ideas that don't require many props.
VeryWellFit: With everyday items like hand towels, rubber bands, and Silly Putty, you can find some pretty useful exercises here.
BeachBodyOnDemand: This link includes photos of foot, hand, and arm exercises, plus lower-body workout suggestions.
Athletico: A lot of interesting ideas here. I haven't tried working with laundry detergent bottles, but in a pinch, being caught at home under the coronavirus conditions . . .
WholeBodyHealthPT: Including a nice list of items with approximate weight values (e.g., 5 pounds = 1 bag of rice).
Theraband Hand Exerciser: A product and not really an exercise website, this link includes a guide to hand exercises using the Theraband hand exerciser. Take a look at the PDF image for suggestions like pinching, compressing, and finger-walking. Note: I haven't used this product.