Physical Activity after a Spinal Cord Injury - Hospital to Home

These articles have been created to support people with a spinal cord injury (SCI) to become more physically active. Please use this information to give you some ideas about how to get started or to keep you moving forward.

Written by Hannah Houliston (PhD Student from Scotland) with guidance from:

  • People with an SCI in hospital and in the community
  • Healthcare professionals
  • SCI charities and researchers

"I think having appropriate SCI resources in place would be beneficial for those looking to get back into physical activity after a period of inactivity –  covering items such as appropriate exercises, lengths of activity, briefs on the importance of cardio and strength training, techniques to do at home with household items etc." RO

"On discharge my mobility was still quite limited so it was difficult to think about the sort of physical activity I could manage. I had always kept fit previously but a lack of knowledge about the options open to me following my SCI held me back a bit." AC

Creating the exercise guidelines

The original work to create these guidelines involved an international collaboration with research scientists, people with a SCI, healthcare professionals, and people from SCI organisations. 

Research paper: Ginis, K.A.M., Van Der Scheer, J.W., Latimer-Cheung, A.E., Barrow, A., Bourne, C., Carruthers, P., Bernardi, M., Ditor, D.S., Gaudet, S., De Groot, S. and Hayes, K.C., 2018. Evidence-based scientific exercise guidelines for adults with spinal cord injury: an update and a new guideline. Spinal cord, 56(4), pp.308-321.

From Hospital to Home

At the Spinal Injuries Centre there are lots of ways to help keep you active, and this will help make the transition home easier​. Ask your physical activity advisor or physiotherapist about:

  1. Weekly physical activity taster sessions
  2. 'The Staying Healthy after a SCI' education session
  3. Peer support meetings
  4. The Inter Unit Spinal Games, see below​

Heading Home?

Before you leave hospital, speak with your healthcare team about how you can keep active at home.

What can help me prepare? A few weeks before you're discharged from hospital, chat to your physio about maintaining your rehab, you can create a discharge pack together. Depending on your needs, this may contain:

  • Assisted stretches
  • Positioning examples
  • Exercise pictures or videos of you performing your exercises

Set goals before you go - Your goals continue beyond your time in hospital, and it's important to keep making new ones to continue to progress​. 

Why should I keep active? After a SCI you are at greater risk of developing health conditions e.g diabetes, urinary tract infections, and obesity. But regular physical activity, can help to reduce this risk, whilst improving health and fitness​. 

Returning home after a SCI

"My transition home was relatively smooth in terms of exercise – there was advice from the therapies teams as to what kind of exercises I should be doing to help build on the functioning muscles groups for my specific SCI. Heading home from hospital, this helped me when not only looking into getting into the gym (finding a suitable one) to continue building my strength but also in respect of the messages they instilled and their importance – highlighting the direct correlation between improved physical health and ease of all aspects of life moving forward into the future.​ Upon discharge, before returning to work, I used physical activity as a rehab tool. It was a great focus for my days and I went to the gym regularly, it was my main focus from the point of discharge." RO

The WheelPower Inter Spinal Unit Games

Every year at the Stoke Mandeville Stadium, WheelPower hosts the Inter Spinal Unit Games. Patients from the 15 spinal units across the UK and Ireland, who are less than 1 year post-injury, are invited to compete in sporting events. Wheelchair sports include Rugby, Athletics, Table Tennis, Handcycling, Tennis, Fencing, Basketball and Archery. There are often special guests including Paralympians. Ask your Physical Activity Advisor or Physio about how you can get involved. 

If you are an adult who isn't in a Spinal Unit but would like to try out a range of sports then check out the WheelPower Sports Festivals, for a great alternative to the Inter Spinal Unit Games.

WheelPower Sports Events

Physical Activity after a Spinal Cord Injury - PART 2

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