Paralysis is a debilitating condition in which the affected person is unable to use a muscle group to make voluntary movements. It is caused by trauma, spinal cord injury or even nerve injuries that prevent the transmission of messages between the brain and muscle groups. Over time, especially in cases of severe paralysis where the person is totally bed-ridden, muscle loss can be seen alongside other complications. These additional issues can be avoided, or their impact lessened, through customized paralysis exercises, say experts.
It is not just movement that gets restricted — the person gets emotionally affected, too. Practising specifically designed paralysis exercises regularly helps keep them physically healthy whereas having the assistance of a physiotherapist or a family member whenever possible can keep them mentally motivated, offering relief.
Why exercise is important for those with paralysis
Exercising and increasing physical activity can have many positive effects on the body, such as enhancing both health and quality of life.
1. Builds neuroplasticity
The brain, the mastermind of the human body, has a very beautiful ability to rewire neurons, which makes it easier for it to perform a specific function.
“With neuroplasticity [nervous system’s ability to change its activity as a response to stimuli], the brain can modify its function and change its way of action,” says Dr Gurneet Sawhney, senior consultant, neuro and spine surgery, Fortis Hospital, Mumbai. “Exercises activate and enhance neuroplasticity. When you physically move a limb or body part that should ideally stimulate the affected part of the brain, the undamaged part surrounding it are prompted to perform its functions partially. Thus, neural rehabilitation and exercise help people with paralysis to form newer connections in the brain.”
2. Enhances blood circulation
Since movement is limited after paralysis, muscle function is also hindered.
“Exercise helps promote blood circulation to muscles where circulation is otherwise hindered due to paralysis,” explains Jitha Joseph, head of physical medicine and rehabilitation, Fortis Hospital, Bangalore.
3. Prevents stiffness and bone fusion
Muscle stiffness is commonly seen in those with paralysis. “In people who don’t exercise after paralysis, the muscles and joints become stiff, and even the slightest movement can be painful. The chances of bone arthrodesis (fusing of the bones) will take place earlier, in people with paralysis,” highlights Dr Sawhney.
4. Increases the range of motion and builds strength
Dr Sawney, while emphasizing the need to move the muscles, says, “In individuals who exercise, the joints enable a good range of motion. Their muscle tone is maintained and over time, muscles strengthen and overall health improves, too.”
As the muscles start regaining strength, it can help increase the person’s willpower and emotional strength.
5. Prevents paralysis-associated health issues
Bed sores are frequently seen in people who are paralyzed and bedridden. “The inability to exercise or move around keeps them bound to the bed, thus increasing the chances of contracting urinary infections and pulmonary diseases.”
“Secondary health conditions like deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, emotional stress, depression and low self-esteem can also occur,” adds Joseph.
Type of exercises for people with paralysis
Depending on the type and cause of paralysis, the exercise routine for each person varies. But exercise helps keep those with paralysis physically active. “One can do free hand and leg exercises to avoid limb contracture, joint pains and blood vessel problems,” informs Joseph. “Frequent turning while in bed to prevent pressure sores, doing deep breathing exercises to prevent pneumonia and chest complications are other exercises that can be done.”
- Paralysis is a condition that limits the movement of certain muscles, thus hindering mobility.
- In people with paralysis, doing certain exercises on a regular basis increases neuroplasticity, blood circulation and range of motion of the joints, and helps build strength.
- It prevents muscle stiffness, bone arthrodesis and other health issues associated with paralysis, such as bed sores and urinary or pulmonary infections.
- Exercising and having a physiotherapist or someone in the family assist you during the course can also increase your willpower and keep yourself motivated.