Take the Quiz! – How Inclusive is Your Fitness Facility?

Now is the perfect time for gym and studio owners to profit by appealing to one of the biggest, largely untapped markets in the fitness industry – individuals with disabilities.  Many fitness facilities, however, are not equipped to meet the needs of the disability community.

Are you curious if your facility makes the grade for inclusion and accessibility?  You can find out by taking our quick quiz.  This quiz will help you gauge where your fitness facility currently stands in its level of accessibility, as well as the key areas for improvement.

At the end of the quiz, you will have the option to get a FREE copy of The Ultimate Guide to Making Your Fitness Facility More Inclusive.  This guide offers loads of tips to make your facility more inclusive as well as a handy 1-page checklist that you can use to assess your facility’s accessibility and inclusivity and identify areas for improvement.

Just click the button below to take the quiz now!

Button - Take the Quiz

Male trainer and mature woman talking at the gym

Free Webinar – Getting Fit with a Disability: How to Advocate for Yourself at the Gym

One of the best ways to get active is by joining a gym or fitness facility. However, navigating the gym can be challenging when you have a disability. Fortunately, you can overcome these barriers and enjoy safe and effective workouts at the gym. The key is successfully advocating for yourself and knowing how to ask for what you need.

What is Self-Advocacy?

Self-advocacy is taking action by speaking up and asking for what you need.  Successful self-advocacy involves knowing your rights, understanding your needs, and effectively communicating those needs to others.

Why is it Important?

If you have a disability, self-advocacy can be a critical skill if you choose to exercise at a gym or fitness facility.  Many facilities are not designed with the needs of individuals with disabilities in mind.  Also, many health and fitness professionals are not aware of the needs of individuals with disabilities in these settings.  Therefore, you need become your own best advocate by taking action to ensure that your needs are met.

Self-advocacy helps you:

  • Get what you need (e.g. information, equipment, resources, instruction) to exercise safely and effectively.
  • Make sure your rights are respected.
  • Develop assertiveness and self-determination.
  • Learn to say no without guilt.
  • Express disagreement while respecting the needs of others.

How Do I Advocate for Myself?

The thought of having to speak up for your own interests can be scary.  Fortunately, self-advocacy doesn’t have to be a daunting task.  It is a learned skill that you can master through proper planning and practice.  The key to success is having a solid strategy that gives you the confidence you need take action.

If you are interested in learning how to become your own best advocate at the gym, I invite you to join me FREE 30-minute webinar.  In this webinar, you will learn:

  • A simple 3-step plan for successful self-advocacy in health and fitness settings.
  • Tips for effectively communicating with health and fitness professionals.
  • Problem-solving strategies for developing creative solutions that are a win-win for everyone!

Here is everything you need to know to join me for this exciting event!

Event Details

Webinar: Getting Fit with a Disability:  How to Advocate for Yourself at the Gym 
Date:  Wednesday, February 28, 2018
Time:  7:00 – 7:30 pm EST
Duration:  30 minutes
Presented By:  Jennifer Hobbs, MS, MBA
President & Founder, IncluFit

To reserve your spot in the webinar (spaces are limited), click on the button below:

Register Now - Click this link to register for the webinar

Or click this link to register:
http://inclufit.clickmeeting.com/399251614/register

Can’t attend the live event? No problem! A recording will be made available to all registered attendees after the live event concludes. We’ll deliver it directly to your inbox for easy access and viewing.

I look forward to seeing you on February 28th!

Jennifer's Signature Jennifer Hobbs

Diverse group of people with exercise equipment.

Inclusive Fitness: Why It Matters to Your Health and Fitness Business

Have you heard of inclusive fitness?

Inclusive fitness is a newly emerging facet of the health and fitness industry, yet, unfortunately, most business owners and managers don’t understand the overall impact that this could have on the growth and longevity of their business. 

Not only are inclusive health and fitness businesses tapping into this market segment’s spending power, but they are also gaining increased trust and interest from all consumers—those with disabilities and those without.

Ultimately, inclusive fitness is not just about getting people into your facility, but about creating a space and series of programs where all people are welcome and able to participate. Living a healthy and active life should be possible for everyone!

Are you ready to establish yourself as an industry leader? Check this out…

Inclusive Fitness - Why it Matters [Infographic]

 

Man with a prosthetic leg doing pushups in the gym.

Capture the Disability Market Without Spending a Dime: 12 Free & Easy Ways to Make Your Gym More Inclusive

The New Year is coming up and that means it is time for big business in the fitness industry.  People making their resolutions will be lining up and hopefully signing up for new gym memberships.  This is the perfect time for gym and studio owners to take advantage of one of the biggest, largely untapped markets in the fitness industry – individuals with disabilities.

Disability Statistics

The disability market is large and growing.  If you are wondering how big of a potential opportunity the disability market represents, just take a look at these recent statistics.

Facility owners often balk at the thought of making their facilities more accessible and inclusive.  They often think they must spend thousands of dollars and enormous amounts of time to make changes that will have significant impact.  Frequent thoughts are that you need to buy new, expensive equipment or make substantial changes to the building structure. They are wrong.  You can grow your member base by improving accessibility without making a big investment in time or money.  Here are 12 easy ways to make your gym more accessible without spending a dime.

#1  Turn on Closed Captioning

Many facilities have televisions to provide entertainment in the cardio section.  Monitors and screens also are used in some group fitness settings and throughout the facility to display promotional and marketing content.  If you have televisions or monitors in your facility, one of the easiest ways to make the environment more inclusive is by turning on the closed captioning.  Closed captioning allows members with hearing impairments to understand and enjoy the content on the screens along with other members.

#2  Pick Up Equipment Off of the Floor

Keeping the floors of the fitness areas free from unracked weights and other miscellaneous equipment can feel like a never-ending task.  However, having equipment strewn on the floor not only poses a safety risk for all members, but can be a significant barrier to accessibility for individuals with disabilities.  Individuals with mobility disabilities and vision impairments are at increased risk of injury from tripping on or bumping into equipment that is not properly stored.  Additionally, those using assistive devices such as canes, walkers, and wheelchairs may not be able to access certain areas or pieces of equipment if their path is blocked by scattered and misplaced equipment.

One way to reduce the clutter on the fitness floor is to encourage members to return equipment to its proper place after use. This can be done in a number of ways. The easiest, and most common way, is to post signs throughout the facility.  If you have an internal club channel, you may also want to air periodic reminders on the screens in the facility.

It is also important that staff are trained to communicate to members the importance of returning equipment to its proper place after use.  Staff should also be aware of improperly stored equipment when they are on the fitness floor and pick up equipment that is not in its proper place.

#3  Reorganize Equipment for Easier Access

Making a few changes in the way that equipment is stored can make a huge difference in accessibility.  Today’s fitness facilities typically offer an enormous array of accessories and equipment for every type of workout.  Having options such as free weights, medicine balls, stability balls, and kettlebells helps members increase the effectiveness of their workouts while adding variety.  This leads to happy members!  It’s great to have all of this equipment, but it is only valuable if people can actually use it.  Take a look at how you store your equipment and ask yourself the following questions.

1. Is your equipment stored in a narrow space (e.g. a closet or equipment room) or behind other objects (e.g. other equipment, machines)?  Would an individual using a mobility device, such as a wheelchair or scooter, have a clear path that is wide enough to access the equipment? 

When equipment is stored in narrow and small spaces it becomes exceedingly difficult for individuals that use a wheelchair or assistive device because they don’t have enough room to maneuver.

2. Is your equipment stored on high shelves?  Could a person using a wheelchair or an individual of short stature safely reach the equipment? 

Reaching overhead can be difficult for individuals with certain orthopedic and neuromuscular disorders, as well as those with balance issues. High shelves also pose a problem for those that use a wheelchair or are of short stature as they can’t reach the equipment.

3. Is your equipment stacked on top of each other?  Would an individual with mobility or balance issues be able to safely remove and replace the equipment?

Equipment that’s in disarray is a tripping hazard for those that are balance-challenged or visually impaired, as well as a stability issue for wheelchair users.

Once you assess your space, you can move things around to make them more accessible.

#4  Keep a Clipboard at the Front Desk

The first thing most people see when they come through the front doors is the reception counter or front desk.  Ideally, the reception counter is low enough or, at a minimum, has a section low enough to allow for an individual using a wheelchair to roll up and use the desk surface to fill out paperwork, etc.  According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an accessible counter is at least 36″ long and no more than 36″ above the floor with a 30″ by 48″ space in front of the counter to accommodate a wheelchair or electric scooter.  Unfortunately, many reception counters are rather tall, with the counter surface at around the chest-level of person standing.  If your front desk does not have an area low enough for a person in a seated position to use, an easy fix is to have a clipboard (or a computer tablet if your facility is fully-digital) handy.  The front desk staff member can come around the front of the desk to speak with the member and the member can use the clipboard in his or her lap as a writing surface.

#5 Make a List of Accessible/Universally Designed Equipment and Accessories

Staff should be aware of the facility’s accessible and universally designed equipment and accessories.  Here are some examples:

  • Accessible equipment:  arm-crank ergometer or handcycle
  • Universally designed equipment:  Lat pulldown machine with removable or swing-away seat
  • Adaptive accessories: Gripping gloves and foot plates or pedal straps for bicycles

#6  Move Magazines and Promotional Materials Closer to the Floor

Move items like magazines and promotional materials within reach of seated members and individuals of short stature.  Often times, magazines and promotional materials such as brochures, flyers, and class schedules are stored on high countertops or in tall display racks.  Simply moving these materials to a lower rack or table can make them accessible to all members.

#7  Secure Entryway Mats and Rugs

Make sure entryway mats, rugs, and other floor coverings lie flat and are securely fastened to the floor. Doormats, rugs, and other floor coverings that are frayed, have curling edges, or are not firmly attached to the floor pose a safety risk for all members.  However, unsecured floor coverings are particularly treacherous for individuals with disabilities.  Individuals with visual or mobility disabilities can easily trip or slide on loose floor coverings.  Unsecured mats and rugs pose both a safety hazard and an accessibility challenge for people that use a mobility device.  They can easily get caught up in the wheels of a wheelchair or scooter or snagged under the legs of a walker or a cane.

#8  Make Sure Parking Areas and Walkways are Clear of Obstacles

Your sidewalks, parking lots, and entrance areas may meet the ADA requirements, but be aware of temporary barriers that can create obstacles and limit access to your facility.

Some examples of temporary barriers that may limit access to your facility include:

  • items like bike racks, planters, sidewalk signs, and trash cans that block part of the sidewalk or the pathway to the accessible entrance. Remember that an individual using a wheelchair or other mobility device requires a wider clear path to maneuver than does an individual on foot. The ADA requires the clear width of walking surfaces to be a minimum of 36 inches (915 mm) wide. Obstacles that can be easily avoided or stepped around by an individual on foot can be an insurmountable barrier for a customer using a mobility device.
  • uncleared snow and untreated ice on sidewalks and in the parking area. Snow and ice in and around accessible parking spaces and on accessible pathways can make access difficult or impossible for a customer with a disability.
  • parked delivery trucks or construction vehicles. These vehicles may block accessible parking spots, access to sidewalk curb-cuts, and accessible entryways.

Regularly checking the parking areas and walkways and removing any temporary barriers can go a long way to improving the accessibility of your facility.

#9  Make a List of Accessible Transportation Options

Getting to and from the facility can be a significant barrier to individuals with disabilities.  One way you can make it easier for individuals with disabilities to use your facility is by providing members (and potential members!) with a list of accessible transportation options.  Compiling the list may take a little research, but it can go a long way in making your facility more accessible.  You may have the best equipment, instructors, and programs – but none of that matters if your members can’t get to you!

When creating a list of accessible transportation options, here are a few things to consider:

  • Public Transportation
    • Is the facility on a bus or train route?
    • Are there local paratransit services available?
    • How far is the facility from the nearest bus/train stop?
    • Is the route from the bus/train stop to the facility entrance accessible?
  • Walkability/Accessible Sidewalks/Paths – Are there accessible sidewalks or recreation paths that allow for easy access on foot, by bicycle, or using a wheelchair or scooter?
  • Parking – Are there adequate accessible parking spaces available?  Even during peak times?

Have it available in printed form, large print or Braille, and online.  Keep one at the front desk to hand out to people coming into the facility or for reference when prospective members call to ask questions about the facility.  Make sure the front desk staff are familiar with the transportation options to more easily assist customers.

#10  Include Images of Individuals with Disabilities in Promotional Materials

Joining a gym or fitness studio is as much about community as it is about getting fit.  All members want to feel like they belong and are part of the facility’s culture and community. Next time you are putting together a new marketing campaign, consider including pictures of individuals with disabilities in marketing and promotional materials.  Seeing individuals with disabilities in your mainstream marketing lets prospective members with disabilities know that your facility is inclusive.  It assures them that they will feel welcomed by the gym community and comfortable in the environment.  It also demonstrates that inclusion is a priority for your organization.

#11  Create an Organizational Inclusion Policy

There is no better way to let prospective members know that you are committed to inclusion than to put it in writing.  Create an “inclusion policy” that reflects your organization’s Include the policy in the employee manual, on the company website, and in appropriate company reports and documents. Add an inclusion statement to your membership documents.  Let members know that your organization supports an inclusive environment and people of all abilities are welcome.

Make sure that the policy is communicated to all levels of the organization – from support staff to upper management.  Most importantly, remember that words are worthless unless the principles behind the words are put into action. Let employees know that they are expected to demonstrate the values inclusion on the everyday on the job.

#12  Provide Exceptional Customer Service

The best thing you can do to make your facility more inclusive is provide exceptional customer service.  Treat everyone that comes through your doors with courtesy and respect. Smile, be welcoming, listen, and be willing to adapt.

In Conclusion

Make the commitment to improve the accessibility and inclusiveness of your facility in the new year.  With a minimal investment of time and money, you can increase sales while making a difference for your members.

Young woman sitting on a couch with her knees hugged to her chest looking depressed.

How to Get Motivated to Exercise When You are Depressed

The holiday season is here once again!  For many, the holidays are a wonderful time of year – full of food, family, and happy memories.  However, for individuals suffering from depression and anxiety, the holidays can be a very challenging time.

As holidays approach, most people find their stress rising and their ability to cope fade away.  To add insult to injury, as we move towards winter, we are exposed to less natural light.  This can trigger seasonal affective disorder (SAD), otherwise known as the “winter blues”.  Symptoms of SAD include feelings of hopelessness, low energy, and loss of interest in activities that you typically enjoy.

Fortunately, there are ways to help you manage your depression during the holidays.  One of the best ways to combat depression is with exercise.  Some of the many positive effects of exercise on depression include:

  • Improved mood
  • Increased energy
  • Reduced stress
  • Improved concentration
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Better sleep

The good news is, you don’t need a lot of exercise to feel a difference!  Research shows that as little as one hour of exercise per week can improve mood and ease the symptoms of depression. That is less than 10 minutes of activity per day!

Sounds great, right?  Of course, anyone that has experienced depression knows that this is easier said than done.  Depression saps you of your motivation and energy, and can send you into a seemingly endless loop that sounds something like this…

I know I need to exercise because it will help my depression and make me feel better, but I can’t get moving because I’m depressed! 

These feelings of knowing that exercise can help, but feeling unable to take action can add to anxiety and stress.  Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take that can help you break the endless loop of self-doubt and begin to add exercise into your life.

Change Your Mindset

The first step in getting moving, is changing the way you think about exercise.  The word “exercise” sounds like work.  It sounds like a task to be accomplished or a chore to be done. In other words, it’s something “extra” you have to fit in to your life.  When you are depressed and have no motivation or energy, the last thing you want to do is add one more thing to your to-do list!

So, start by not thinking about it as exercise at all.  Change your mindset to think of it as simply, movement.  Moving your body is a natural part of life.  By shifting your mental focus from exercise to merely moving your body, you remove the burden of extra work and can begin to appreciate how good it feels to just move.

It is important to find movement that feels good to your body.  Movement should be associated with positive energy and feelings, never discomfort or pain.  If you have physical limitations, find movement that you can do that does not exacerbate existing conditions or injuries.

Everyone’s body is different, so it may take some experimentation to find movement that works for you.  It may be slow and flowing, like yoga, stretching, or tai chi. Or, it may be short and intense, like punching a heavy bag. Or, it may be simple and relaxed like walking.  Remember, any movement that feels good to your body is good for your soul.

Start Where You Are Today

Depression has an ugly way of making you feel like the current version of yourself is not acceptable.  It strips you of your confidence and keeps you from taking that first step forward.  For example, below are some common thoughts you might have when you are depressed.

I would start exercising if only…

…I could get out of bed.

…it wasn’t so cold and miserable outside.

…I wasn’t so anxious around other people.

Don’t let these feelings stop you from taking those first steps to get moving.  Start where you are today and work from there.  Wherever you are today, however you feel, start there and take one step forward.

If you can’t get out of bed, stretch or do some simple yoga poses right in your bed.  If the thought of leaving the house is overwhelming, walk a lap around the house or walk up and down a flight of stairs.  If the thought of having to interact with others makes you anxious, stay home and use an exercise video or online workout that has a movement and instruction style that is a good fit for you.

Create a Safe, Accessible Space to Move

Individuals with depression constantly battle feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.  Therefore, it is important that you find a space where you feel comfortable and safe to move without feeling anxious or judged.  This space should be easily accessible to you and provide you with enough room to safely move.  It may be in your own home, at a gym or recreation facility, in your neighborhood, or at a favorite outdoor space like a park or trail.

You should always feel positive and supported in your space.  That means avoiding environments

  • that are highly competitive.
  • provoke an anxiety response.
  • lead to any feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt.
  • where people are critical and unsupportive.

Find Your Support

One of the best things you can do to help yourself find the motivation to move more, is to connect with others for support.  Research shows that positive social support, can decrease stress, increase motivation and improve overall mental health.

There are several ways that you can connect with others and get the support you need.  Pick the option(s) that work best for you based on where you are today.

Meet-Up with a Friend

Schedule a date with someone to meet up and do something active.  This could be a partner, friend, co-worker, or anyone that you enjoy spending time with.   Having a time planned to meet someone can be the motivation you need to get up and get moving.  Just make sure that whomever you choose is supportive, never competitive or critical.

Join an Online Community

If you suffer from social anxiety or do not have anyone in your life right now that can fully support you, consider joining an online community.  Fortunately, there are thousands of options available online.  Just as with your in-person relationships, it is important that you find an online community that fits you.   Take some time to explore different groups to find one that meets your needs.  Your community should be inclusive, supportive, and committed to helping you become healthier.

Team Up with Your Pet

Support doesn’t have to come in human form.  Exercising with your pet is another way to get the support you need to get moving.  Animals are source of unconditional love and support, making them perfect workout partners.  As an added bonus, research has found that interacting with animals has numerous benefits, including:

  • Improving mood by boosting levels of serotonin and dopamine.
  • Reducing levels of anxiety and stress.
  • Increasing motivation.
  • Fostering a sense of purpose and improving self-esteem.

If you don’t have a pet, don’t worry!  Consider volunteering at a local animal shelter as a dog walker or playing with the animals.  There are plenty of homeless animals that would appreciate your time and affection.

Keep it Simple

One of the keys to adding movement into your life when you are depressed is to make it as easy as possible.  Depression can make even the smallest tasks seem overwhelming.  So, take the stress away by keeping it simple and focus on minimizing the effort to move.  Give yourself permission to take the easy road.  If you don’t feel like getting dressed, exercise in your pajamas.  If you normally go to the gym, stay home and do a workout video.

Set Micro-Goals

Another way to simplify is by setting micro-goals, that is breaking up the experience into ridiculously small pieces.  Studies show that breaking down larger tasks into smaller pieces is the best way to accomplish a goal.  This is because every time we accomplish a goal, our brain reacts by releasing dopamine, the “feel-good” chemical.  This good feeling motivates us to continue on, accomplishing more while improving our overall mood.

Here is an example of how you might use micro-goals to encourage yourself to move.

  • I will put on my socks and sneakers.
  • I will go to the kitchen and fill my water bottle and drink.
  • I will walk in a path between the kitchen, the living room, and the hallway for 5 laps.
  • I give myself the permission to stop after 5 laps. If I am feeling good, I will do 5 more laps.
  • When I am done, I will sit in my favorite chair.
  • I will remove my socks and sneakers.
  • I will drink the rest of my water.
  • I will relax for at least 5 minutes.

Use a Timer

Breaking the inertia associated with depression is usually the hardest part.  If we can find a way to just get started and get moving, everything else becomes easier.  One way to help break the inertia is to use a timer to set time-based micro-goals.  Begin by setting small time increments of no more than 5 minutes.  Commit to moving until the timer finishes.

If 5 minutes seems like too much, start with 1 minute.  Also, remind yourself that you are always the one in control.  Before you start, give yourself permission to stop at any time without feeling guilty.  Remember, any movement is better than none at all.

Connect with Something You Love

Movement should always be a pleasant experience.  However, when you are depressed, it can often be hard to connect to the good feelings you get from moving your body.  One tip for helping to create a positive association to physical activity is to connect the activity to something that you enjoy.  For example, if you enjoy music, create a playlist of your favorite songs that you only listen to while you move.  Some other options might include watching favorite TV show or listening to an audiobook during your workout.

You are much more likely to start moving and stay moving when you connect physical activity to something you enjoy.  So, think about what you love and get moving!

Go Outside

Whenever possible, take your activity outside.  Exercising outdoors has additional benefits to indoor exercise.  Compared with exercising indoors, exercising outdoors has been shown to

  • increase feelings of revitalization and positive engagement.
  • decrease tension, confusion, anger, and depression.
  • increase energy.
  • make the activity more satisfying and enjoyable.

So, consider stepping outdoors for your next workout.  As little as 5 minutes of activity outdoors can make a huge difference.

Focus on How You Feel

Take some time both during and after physical activity to focus on how you feel.  Make sure to tune into the sensations in your body before, during, and after.  Take a few minutes after your workout to assess your mood, anxiety levels, and overall mental state. Try to capture the positive feelings resulting from your activity.  The next time you need motivation to move, tap back into those good feelings.

Be Kind and Reward Yourself 

Finally, always take time to reward yourself for every positive step forward.  Every movement should be celebrated!   Speak to yourself in a kind and encouraging way, expressing gratitude for what you and your body have accomplished.

In Conclusion

Take the time to take care of yourself this holiday season.  If you struggle with depression or anxiety, try to add just a few minutes of movement into your life every day.  Even the smallest amount of movement can have a huge impact on your emotional and mental health.

Woman flexing biceps in the sun, shown from the back.

SCI Workout Consideration #6 – Muscles & Joints

Of course, all physical activity engages the muscles and joints. Everyone that exercises regularly eventually experiences some muscle soreness or joint pain or stiffness. Usually, these conditions are temporary and are easily treatable with a little rest and proper self-care; however, individuals with SCI need to be particularly aware of several conditions affecting muscles and joints that can be extremely painful and potentially debilitating.

Spasticity 

Spasticity is due to increased tone in a muscle.

What Issues Are Posed With SCI? 

A spinal cord injury disrupts communication between the brain and the part of the nervous system responsible for muscle control below the level of injury. This disconnect can result in a common condition that individuals with SCI need to consider when exercising – spasticity.

Spasticity typically occurs in the muscles below the site of injury and can make it challenging to exercise since it can be very painful. It can lead to abnormal posture, cause deformities in the bones and joints, and can be further exacerbated by exercise.

Symptoms 

Symptoms of spasticity include:

  • High muscle tone
  • Hyperactive stretch reflexes
  • Spasms: Quick and/or sustained involuntary muscle contractions
  • Clonus: A series of fast involuntary contractions
  • Contractures: A permanent contraction of the muscle and tendon due to severe lasting stiffness and spasms

Steps to Reduce Risk When Exercising

There are several steps that you can take to reduce spasticity and make exercise safer and more comfortable.

If you experience spasticity, try:

  • Regular stretching several times per day. This is the best way to reduce spasticity.
  • Aim to hold stretches for 10-30 seconds.
  • Use a partner to assist you in stretching of the non-functioning muscle.
  • If you take medication to control spasticity, try to coordinate the time you take the medication and the time of your exercise session to minimize spasticity during your workout.

To avoid further complications from spasticity:

  • Do not bounce or perform ballistic stretching.
  • Do not exercise when you are experiencing severe spasticity.  Work with your doctor or therapist to reduce spasticity before returning to exercise.
  • Do not exercise when you have an infection. Urinary tract and other infections can increase the risk of spasticity,
  • Do not exercise in cold temperatures, since cold air can increase spasticity.

Overuse Injuries

Individuals with SCI (particularly those that use a manual wheelchair) are susceptible to several overuse injuries. The repetitive motion of pushing a wheelchair puts significant stress on the muscles and joints of the upper body, namely the wrists and shoulders.  

Some of the most common overuse injuries experienced within the SCI community are carpal tunnel syndrome, rotator cuff strain, and shoulder impingement.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome 

Carpal tunnel syndrome results from chronic pressure on the wrist that causes swelling.  The swelling compresses the nerve that runs through the wrist to the hand, the medial nerve, causing pain and weakness.

What Issues Are Posed With SCI? 

Manual wheelchair users are very susceptible to carpal tunnel syndrome because the act of the hand repeatedly gripping and pushing the wheels places a significant amount of force on the hands and wrists.  Studies show that as many as 90% of long-term manual wheelchair users suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome.

Symptoms 

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome affect the hand and wrist and may include:

  • Pain
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Weakness

Steps to Reduce Risk When Exercising 

Like most overuse injuries, the best way to keep carpal tunnel syndrome from affecting your ability to exercise is through prevention.

Some steps you can take to reduce your risk include:

  • Wearing padded gloves.
  • Using good body mechanics when pushing your wheelchair.
  • Making sure your wheelchair is fitted properly and equipment is well maintained.
  • Using padding push rims to reduce pressure on the hands
  • Applying ice to the wrists for 20 minutes at the end of each day to reduce any swelling.
  • Incorporating a wrist flexibility and strengthening program into your routine.  

Rotator Cuff Strain & Shoulder Impingement 

The ball-and-socket structure of the shoulder joint makes it extremely mobile but also very vulnerable to possible injuries. For manual wheelchair users, the shoulder joint is the primary joint used during transfers and propulsion. This puts wheelchair users at particularly high risk for developing shoulder injuries.

Rotator cuff strain is most commonly caused by muscle imbalances in the shoulder.

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons around the shoulder joint that are responsible for moving and stabilizing the shoulder joint. The motion of pushing a wheelchair causes certain muscles of the shoulder to be used more than others, leading to muscular imbalances. These imbalances can result in injury to the rotator cuff.

Additionally, individuals with SCI tend to have weak internal and external shoulder rotators.  This weakness can also contribute to rotator cuff strain.

Symptoms of a rotator cuff strain include pain and/or an aching sensation in the shoulder joint.

An image of a man using a wheelchair and holding a dumbbell.

Shoulder impingement is another common injury among wheelchair users because the biomechanics of pushing a wheelchair creates a significant amount of pressure on the shoulder joint. This pressure is 2.5 times higher for wheelchair users than for non-wheelchair users!

Also, long periods spent in a seated position require that wheelchair users frequently reach overhead to grasp objects and perform tasks. Once again, the biomechanics of this movement put considerable stress on the shoulder joint.

Steps to Reduce Risk When Exercising 

You can reduce your risk of developing shoulder injuries by taking the following preventative measures:

  • Always use good body mechanics when pushing your wheelchair.
  • Try to balance out the time pushing in your chair with other types of physical activity that use different movements and muscles.
  • Make sure your exercise routines are well balanced, including stretching, aerobic exercise, and strength training.
  • Incorporate strength training exercises to help reduce muscular imbalances in the shoulder. Be sure to include exercises to strengthen the shoulder’s internal and external rotators!

Conclusion

As you can see, being aware of a few common conditions associated with SCI that can impact exercise will help you take the necessary steps to minimize your risk so that you can exercise safely. Exercising with SCI doesn’t have to be intimidating or scary, and the benefits of exercise are well-worth the investment!

Looking for SCI-friendly exercise guides? Visit our website at inclufit.com to view our exercise videos, equipment, and training tips.

Further Reading 

NCHPAD – Overuse Injuries in Wheelchair Users

NCHPAD – Spinal Cord Injuries

Spasticity