What’s on your list for 2016 resolutions? For many, improving their health is at the top of the list. This may include making better food choices, such as adding more fruits and vegetables or cutting back on sugar, or your goals may be exercise related, to become more active and strengthen your body. Whatever it is, taking care of the body we are given is important. If you are an amputee though, figuring out ways to be more active can often feel daunting. Perhaps you might like these suggestions for improving strength and flexibility.
Movement and stretching are key for all amputees. It’s important your body doesn’t stay locked in any one position for too long. For example, if you are a below-the-knee amputee, be sure to fully extend your knee in a stretch position throughout the day each day (perhaps 15-20 minutes each time). You can stretch it out on a couch, a chair or even the floor. Just be mindful of releasing your knee from its bent position for at least short periods of time each day.
It’s also important for amputees to keep their hips stretched out. So much of your walking strength and balance comes from this area. Try lying on the floor on your stomach with your hips flat on the ground. Do this a couple times a day for 10-15 minutes. For an even better stretch, slightly lift up your head and shoulders or even place a couple pillows under your chest to prop you up while your hips are stretching out.
Hips and Legs: For strengthening your hips, lie on each side while you raise and lower your leg or residual limb on the side that is on top. Repeat on each side. Try several repetitions of these each day, and if possible, continue to keep the side of your body that is on the ground straight to continue allowing the hips to stretch out. This will improve strength in your hip abductors and adductors. If you want to strengthen hamstrings and quads, the suggestion is similar. For quads: while lying on your back on the floor, raise and lower each leg one at a time. For hamstrings: change to lying on your stomach on the floor and repeat the same process, raising and lowering one leg at a time.
Arms: Arm strength is another important area to not neglect. Arm exercises can be done in a variety of ways. If you own or have access to an exercise machine, take advantage of the various arm settings it offers, or even simple dumbbells can be used at home. You want to use some some weight resistance for strengthening these muscles. If your amputation allows you to do push-ups or tricep dips, this is a great way to strengthen your arms with your natural body weight.
Balance: Lastly, amputees must have good balance and this takes lots and lots of practice. Start first with balancing exercises on your good leg. While standing just on that leg, try reaching out for things, bending down to pick something up, twisting for something behind you etc. This takes a lot of work and really improves your core strength, where your balance stems from. Once you get better at doing these things on your good leg, start slow and try them while standing only on your prosthesis. Be sure to practice these moves safely, either with another person around to catch you or with a walker or wheelchair nearby. Also, don’t forget functional training for every day activities like shifting your balance back and forth between each leg, climbing a step, or even kicking a ball. You might just surprise yourself with what all you can do.
Remember, your overall health as an amputee plays a key role in your mobility. Keeping your body at a healthy weight, make good food choices, and practicing daily flexibility and strength training exercises are going to make a significant difference in your success. Becoming an amputee has likely shown you that you are stronger than you ever thought you were – keep up the good work as you inspire us all with your courage.
(Keep in mind, we are not doctors and this information is not intended to be taken as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before beginning any new exercise routine.)