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Life After Spinal Injury: Getting Started

At first glance she appears to be nothing short of a real life superwoman, but Claire Lomas’s journey to marathon-walking bionic woman, following a horse riding accident that left her paralysed from the chest down, has taken ongoing hard work and determination.  As she prepares for her next challenge, cycling for three weeks around the UK, she explains how she started her journey to recovery …

Doctors give a lot of advice when you are recovering from a spinal injury, but I think a lot don’t emphasise movement as much as they should; exercise, is so good for spinal injuries, as it is for everyone.  It helps with circulation problems, avoiding pressure sores, prevents weight gain (as you are not doing the daily tasks of walking up and down the stairs and things, it’s very easy to put on weight), and simply to keep you sane.  You don’t just get better from a spinal injury, you have to keep moving, and it’s something you have to keep working at.

It is hard to find things to do, and a lot of it depends on your level of injury.  It can be demoralising at times as well, particularly if you only focus on recovery, which I did a lot at the start.  There are practical elements to exercising with a spinal injury, and there are also psychological ones.  It is very difficult as a young woman to be told that the muscles in your legs are going to waste, but if you keep  moving you can stop that from happening, and that makes a big difference.  A lot of the time, the attitude is ‘if it doesn’t work, don’t use it’, but you can find ways to make your body work.

Floor Work

It’s pretty boring, but basic floor exercises are extremely good for maintenance and building strength.  If nothing else, it’s good to get out of the wheelchair.  If you are paralysed high up, like I am, then your posture can really suffer.  Of course, much of what you can do will depend on your level of injury, but working with an exercise ball is excellent, and getting onto your hands and knees is great for a sore back.  I try to arch and dip my back - also known as ‘cat and dog’ - as it strengthens your core.  You do feel quite wobbly because you can’t feel that you are leaning on your knees, and unfortunately it is an exercise that makes you very aware of your injury, but it’s very good for you and health maintenance.

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