We all understand the importance of exercise in maintaining our strength, flexibility and endurance as we age. But, as you know, it is sometimes difficult to fit in 30 minutes of daily activity into our busy lives. We use lunch break walks, weekly yoga classes, chasing after kids, wherever and however we can get it.
If you are in a wheelchair, the same principle exists for supporting a healthy body and mind, yet the options for exercise are much more limited. Independently using a manual wheelchair as a main mobility device requires that the individual self- propel by pushing the wheel rims. Some people assume that a self-wheeler should just do more wheeling if they want exercise.... but that might cost the wheeler more than post exercise burn.
Self-propelling does require energy, muscle power and burns calories with every stroke, however our shoulders, much like our knees are vulnerable to repetitive strain injuries (RSI). If you develop a condition in your knee that makes walking or standing painful, your exercise options become more limited. You might still be able to swim or ride a bike, but most have to skip the long walks and runs, so to not aggravate the knee further. The same holds true with wheel chair users, but it has a greater impact. If you develop RSI in one or both shoulders, not only are your exercise options going to be limited, but so will your mobility, as your tolerance for self-propelling decreases.
Shoulder RSI for wheelchair users can be caused by improper wheelchair configuration, involving precise wrist, elbow and shoulder positioning to optimize push forces and reduce resistance. If the seating or wheelchair set up does not provide optimal self-propelling positioning, the user is at risk of developing RSI in any of the arm joints. Even those wheelchair users who are set up perfectly, can develop RSI just from overuse and then can have difficulty conducting their activities of daily living. So more wheeling is not the answer when looking for exercise options for wheelchair users.
Adapted fitness is the modification of traditional excise to meet the physical needs of those living with a disability. Few community resources exist and are not marketed well enough to reach these end users. Sledge Hockey, Wheelchair Rugby, Wheelchair Basketball are now considered professional sports, but for the less competitive, Swimming, Adapted Weight Training, Adapted Boot Camps, and Adapted Yoga are some of the ways wheelchair users can enjoy the benefits of exercise without risking losing their mobility from an RSI. Participating in a variety of exercise modalities (Cross Training) has shown to be the best way to work different muscle groups and work our joints, without creating undue strain on the joints we require for our activities of daily living, including just getting around.
Marnie Courage, OT reg. (MB)