Tiffiny Carlson, a C5/C6 quadriplegic who writes for Spinalcord.com states that after a spinal cord injury, movement is key, and gives the following reasons as to why stretching is beneficial to those with SCI.
“When the body suddenly stops moving, the joints and muscles become dangerously stiff, even leading to contractures. But this also can be prevented with proper, regular stretching, which is important to your spinal cord injury rehabilitation.”
There are two forms of stretching, passive and self-stretching. Tiffiny defines passive stretching as when someone else stretches you, such as a physical or occupational therapist or caregiver. Self-stretching is independently stretching the body parts you can reach on your own.
Stretching Feels Good
One of the top reasons Tiffiny gives as to why a person should stretch is simply because it feels good. “Years after spinal cord injury, the good feeling that comes with stretching your body cannot be matched. It's a lot like yoga in many respects. The energy you release from doing certain stretches can energize you and help you feel more alive,” she says.
Spasticity and Stretching
Tiffiny states, “Spasticity is a fact of life after a spinal cord injury. It can happen out of the blue and disrupt whatever you're doing, even causing some to fall out of their wheelchair.” She continues by saying that while spasticity will always be there, stretching regularly can reduce it tremendously.
Stretching Improves Posture
Scoliosis can be a side effect of SCI because posture is greatly affected when torso muscles aren't active anymore. “Stretching on a regular basis in the back area, especially doing side-stretches from your wheelchair, can help a lot with posture. Muscles pulling here or there may not do a lot to an able-bodied person, but when someone is paralyzed, tight muscles can easily impact balance and, therefore, your posture as well.”
Stretching Helps Independence
Keeping muscles limber is important to continue to do all your daily activities. Allowing your arm or leg muscles to tighten, you'll find it's harder to do the simple things you once could.
“When you have limited muscle movement, it’s key to keep the muscles you can move limber so that you can keep doing everything you're able to do. “
Stretching Prevents Swelling in Lower Extremities
“It’s incredibly important to stretch your lower limbs, ankles, and toes at least twice a day,” says Tiffiny. If you're not moving your legs, blood circulation and swelling ensue. Cosmetically, it's not preferred and can even lead to certain skin conditions. In some cases this can lead to edema, swelling of the feet, which causes you to wear a larger shoe size. Regular stretching can prevent it.
Don't make a habit of inconsistent stretching. Keep it on the regular and stick to a daily schedule to prevent serious side effects. Fitting stretching time into your already busy schedule is often difficult but should become an important priority for your rehabilitation goals.
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