Health Hint! – Staying Active with a Spinal Cord Injury

Oct 7, 2020

Federated Health Charities’ mission is to improve the health and quality of life of Ontarians. We believe education and prevention are key parts of this. Check out our latest Health Hint on how to stay active with a spinal cord injury!

What is a Spinal Cord Injury?

The spinal cord consists of many nerves that run along your backbone, travelling directly from your brain through your back. These nerves branch out from the spinal cord to the rest of your body. The brain sends messages through the spinal cord, allowing you to move and feel. Likewise, these same nerves send information back to brain signalling heat, pain, and other sensations you might experience.

A spinal cord injury can consist of direct damage to the spinal cord itself or the nerves at the end of it. Damage to the spinal cord means the signals can’t be sent back and forth between your brain and your body. This impacts a person’s ability to feel, touch, control their legs, arms, and muscles. With a severe enough injury, it’s possible to completely loose the ability to control parts of the body, leading to paralysis.

Benefits of Exercise

For people with spinal cord injuries, the benefits of exercise can be even greater than for people without this type of injury. Because spinal cord injuries frequently mean regular daily activities don’t provide enough physical activity, exercise becomes crucial. Exercise helps to prevent diabetes, obesity, pressure sores, and osteoporosis while improving blood circulation, breathing, and muscle strength. The mental health benefits of exercise include decreased depression, anxiety, and improved sleep. Because of the many benefits, regular physical activity is like medicine for preventing and treating various health conditions.

What Kinds of Exercises Can You Do?

You should consult with a medical professional before you embark on a new exercise routine. Stretching is a great way to begin and end your workout to help prevent stiff muscles and joints. You can try yoga, exercise bands, and traditional stretches like the ones shown here.

For optimal health, exercise should consist of aerobic activities, strength training, as well as stretching. Aerobic exercises work your cardiovascular system – the general recommendation is 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week or 150 minutes of moderate intensity per week. To gauge the intensity of your workout, you can use the talking test. If you are exercising and can talk but not sing, you are at a moderate intensity. If you are working out so hard you cannot easily talk, you are at a vigorous intensity. There are many different kinds of aerobic activity you can try: hand cycling, rowing, circuit training, swimming, boxing (overhead punching), and seated aerobics.

Strength training helps to build your muscle mass which supports your bones – the general recommendation is twice a week. To try a combination of weightlifting and resistance band exercise, take a look at this resource and this resource. For gym based exercises, here is a guide you can follow. For more information on the general guidelines for working out with a spinal cord injury, take a look at this page from the University of Washington.

If you want to play in a team, adaptive sports is the way to go. Adaptive sports also help you to enjoy the outdoors, get involved in your community, and connect with mentors and peers. Wheelchair basketball, wheelchair tennis, quad rugby, kayaking, fishing, snow skiing, adaptive dance, wheelchair racing, or sled hockey are all options you can try.

Exercising is hard for all of us and the hardest part is starting. Spinal Cord Injury Ontario has a lot of resources available to help get you started in your community. 

We hope you’ve enjoyed our latest Health Hint!
Written by Jennifer Nemcik

NOTE: This article is intended to provide general health tips based on available research. You should consult with a health care professional for specific medical and dietary instructions that are right for you.


If you would like to support those living with spinal cord injuries, you can donate to Spinal Cord Injury Ontario

For general questions, please contact:


Sarah Wood

Executive Director
tel: 437-925-6227


315 Front St. West, 5th Floor
Toronto, ON
M7A 0B8

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