What I Wish My Physical Therapists Would've Taught Me When I Was Newly Injured
No one is perfect, and that includes physical therapists. No matter how much schooling and experience they have, they simply cannot tell you everything you need to know. Often, people will learn things from others with spinal cord injuries along the way or they’ll figure things out themselves.
Either way, it's important to know that when you’re discharged from physical therapy, there are still several things you need to learn, and you might not even know what they are yet. To help speed things up, here are some common things people say they would've loved to have had their physical therapists teach them when they were still a patient. What would you like to know?
How to Balance Without a Chest Strap
For quadriplegics and paraplegics with higher-level injuries, many physical therapists will tell you it’s a good idea to have a chest strap along with a seat belt. Many with SCI have bad balance and this is an excellent way to keep you safe and in your wheelchair.
With that said, there is a lot you can do much easier when you're not wearing a chest wrap, such as cooking, reaching for things, leaning forward to reposition your legs, and doing a lot of everyday activities. Many people will hook their arms around the push handles of the wheelchair instead of using a chest strap, but the long-term effects of this are not good.
Either way, practice balancing without a chest wrap and see where or what you can grab on your wheelchair to make up for the strap. This knowledge will be helpful when doing specific activities, or if for whatever reason there is no strap available.
Stop Pushing Head Rest Use (and Powerchair)
Physical therapists will sometimes encourage quadriplegics to get a headrest when it is not necessary for their level of injury. They'll say, "It will make your life easier," but that is not necessarily something you want when you're trying to recover function. For those with injuries from C5 and below, many go without a headrest.
If you are this level or lower try going without one, and then use one, before making up your mind about a headrest. And do this for a lot of mobility items for that matter. Physical therapists may know a lot of things, but they have not actually lived with a spinal cord injury.
Many quadriplegics are able to use manual wheelchairs when physical therapists will push the use of a power wheelchair. There is a lot of new technology that can be added to manual wheelchairs so they are easier to push, making them even more possible for quadriplegics to use on a daily basis.
Regularly Exercise Your Entire Body
In traditional physical therapy, there's not a lot of talk about moving your lower body or your limbs that are paralyzed outside of the range of motion. They will encourage standing frame use, which is great, but it is a good idea to also work out your legs using an exercise machine or with the help of a trainer. Many people will purchase an at-home FES bike that electronically stimulates leg muscles to peddle a sitting cycle.
Otherwise, repetitive motion, such as moving your legs back and forth, especially in the form of an exoskeleton, can help keep your legs limber and prevent osteoporosis. If you go to an activity-based therapy gym, therapists will move your legs for you. Think of the range of motion, but with more cardio.
How to Get Everything Off the Floor
Picking up things off of the floor is one of the most important tasks you need to know as a wheelchair user if it is possible with your level of injury. Many use reachers. Some people will even keep a foldable reacher on their wheelchair so they have one whenever they need it.
There are times however when a reacher is simply not strong enough, or you may not have the dexterity to use the grabber function. The good news is that there are many techniques that physical therapists do not teach to get things from the floor.
One of the most popular is the "bag" technique. This is for people who have arm function but limited hand function. If there's something large on the floor that your reacher cannot grab, use a bag and put it on the floor on its side, then roll whenever you want to pick it up inside the bag. Once that is done, simply pick up the bag, and you have the contents you want right on your lap.
This is just a slice of what people have told us of things they would have loved to have been taught while in physical therapy. Click back soon for more helpful info for those with new spinal cord injuries.
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Spinal Cord Team