Innovative physical therapy techniques are giving new movement and improving the quality of life for paraplegics and quadriplegics with spinal cord injuries.
Joanne Petersen had been a T9-10 para for 25 years. She was suffering from spinal stenosis, narrowing of the spine, that caused constant pain. She was considering surgery, but a friend urged her to try ADAPT Training, a gym that specializes in helping people with spinal cord injuries. She soon saw her pain decrease and some mobility return.
Project Walk is a gym that opened in Carlsbad, California in 1999 and later expanded to other locations. The trainers there encourage people to get out of their wheelchairs and work with mats, exercise machines, and standing to improve their strength and mobility.
Trainers at ADAPT Training and Project Walk guide exercisers’ legs through motions and have them focus on pushing or kicking. They often tap on muscles to trigger spasms that people can learn to control to increase their sensation and abilities.
Many people with spinal cord injuries are skeptical about what gyms like ADAPT Training and Project Walk have to offer. For a long time, people have generally accepted the idea that those with spinal cord injuries would have limitations for their entire lives and that there was little that could be done to help them. Views about how the spinal cord works and what people with both complete and incomplete spinal cord injuries can do have been evolving in recent years.
Participants in these programs often find that their strength has increased, their range of motion has improved, they are able to stretch and exercise at home, and they have gained the knowledge they need to target specific muscles. They are also inspired by the positive atmosphere and camaraderie among the quads, paras, and their trainers.
Treatment for spinal cord injuries has come a long way. Quads and paras today have the possibility to regain some of their sensation and movement through intensive work with qualified trainers. We encourage other trainers and physical therapists to learn these strategies so that they can help people with spinal cord injuries improve their quality of life.