Home Exercises for Spinal Cord Injury

So, you want to workout at home but not quite sure what to do. You have come to the right place! I will explain exercises/movements for specific body parts. All of these can be performed while seated in your wheelchair, or lying in bed with the use of a few inexpensive items.

exercises for spinal cord injury

Having a Spinal Cord Injury wreaks havoc on our body. Able body people can get away with not exercising more so because at least they are moving, walking, bending,etc. We pretty much are stationary and muscle will quickly atrophy with non use..We NEED to exercise whatever functional muscles we have. If you have the hope of recovery when a cure comes along, you need to have as much muscle tone as possible.

Since we are all different, not everyone will be able to do all of these movements. See what best fits you. Weather you can do them as described or if you have to do your own adaptation of it, as long as you are working your muscle, you will be better off.

Please feel free to ask questions about any other body part/ exercises, I will answer and continue to add content to be as informative as possible.

ARMS | Biceps

The most basic movement for arms is the bicep curl. There are many variations, but for our population, the seated dumbbell curl is what we will do. Depending on your hand function, you can perform this with either dumbbells, exercise bands or wrist(ankle) weights that wrap and Velcro around your wrists. There are 2 ways to do these,

1st with your arm(s) hanging down at your side, palms facing in towards your body, curl your arm up...be sure to keep your upper arm from shoulder to elbow in a fixed position as you bring the weight up,(if possible) rotate your wrist so it ends palm up. This rotation has an effect on the bicep muscle.

The 2nd way I like, if your wheelchair has armrests, simply use it as a base of support under your elbow, this will prevent any upper arm/ shoulder movement and really isolate the bicep muscle..........10 reps, 3-5 sets

ARMS | Triceps

The Triceps is the muscle in the back of the arm. Unfortunately this muscle is often affected by spinal cord injury...If you have function of triceps, there are a few ways we can train this muscle from a wheelchair and lying down. A few require shoulder function, one does not. let's look at ways from a seated position which also require shoulder movement .

1. With a dumbbell, exercise band or wrist wrap weights, raise your arm(s)straight overhead, bending at the elbow, lower the weight to behind your head, then raise to full extension again.This can be done each arm individually, or both hands holding one dumbbell.

2.lying down flat on back, raise arm straight up towards ceiling, lower weight to side of head..keep your elbow pointed upwards...basically same as movement #1 but lying down..

The 3rd movement requires NO shoulder involvement . For this exercise you will need an exercise band.

3. Place an exercise band either over a door or even over the back of your neck(like if u had a rolled up towel over you).......with your elbow either at your side or planted on your armrest, press downwards towards floor. pause at full extension, then slowly release back to start (which your arm should be at 90' bend)...........typically 10 reps, 3-5 sets

ARMS | Forearms

To perform this movement , you need to have some hand function to grip and hold a dumbbell, as well as wrist control.

Place your arm(s) on your thighs with your hand extended slightly further than your knees.

​palms facing up, roll your wrist down, then up...if you have good finger control, you can open your hand on the downside of movement and roll the dumbbell so only fingers are griping then roll hand closed and then wrist up..

​this can also be done with palms facing down, this will work the topside of the forearm.....10 reps 3-5 sets


This movement will work the shoulder muscle... Again, depending on your hand function, you can use dumbbells, exercise bands or wrist(ankle)weights.

Hold the dumbbells with your palms facing in and your arms straight down at your side. This will be your starting position. Raise your arms out to the side, with just a slight bend, to just past shoulder level....slowly return to starting position

10 reps 3-5 sets


The Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press is one of the best shoulder exercises for developing all heads of the shoulder.

Hold a dumbbell, exercise band or wrist weight in each hand at shoulder height using a prorated grip, with the elbows pointed downward and to the sides. Press upwards towards ceiling , stop just short of full extension, slowly lower to starting position....10 reps 3-5 sets


Core strength is extremely important to people with spinal cord injury. Having a good strong core with not only allow us to feel good, it will aid in getting in /out of bed, sitting up , reaching, bending over to pick something off of floor, dressing, etc....depending on your level of injury, theses should be done daily..start your day off with crunches before you even get out of bed.

.....Lying on your back bend your bend your knees up to approximately a 45 degree angle. You can place a bolster, exercise ball, chair, or even a pile of pillows under your legs for support.

The movement begins by curling the shoulders towards the pelvis. then back down to flat.....do this movement nice and slow. The hands can be behind or beside the neck or crossed over the chest.

DO NOT pull on your neck, simply have them back there

When performing a crunch the lower back should not leave the floor.

....Once your strong enough, you can hold a weight, either being your head, or on your upper chest....a weighted exercise ball works well

Start with 2 sets of 25 reps that should give you a good burn.

ABDOMINALS | side to side core strength

This exercise I found to be very beneficial. Being in a wheelchair, we cannot always reach things and need to stretch to get to them. Without core strength, we would fall over. This movement requires you to be in your wheelchair at a table and you will need a towel..Depending on your ability, you may need the aid of someone in case you go too far and cannot get back to center

Place the towel on the table, pull your chair sideways to the table and place your closest arm on the towel.

....Lean as far as you can as if you were reaching for something across the table, then come back to center(sitting straight)

This can be a tough movement so find your range to where you won't get stuck

Spin around and work the other side

This can also be done facing the table, place both hands on towel, arms extended forward then lean forwards then back to sitting up....again, find your range and build on it.

ABDOMINALS | oblique muscles

This movement works the oblique muscles. Your oblique muscles (side abdominals) help you bend from the side or twist. Strong oblique support your lower back and improve your posture. To start, lay on your back, knees bent, feet flat on floor/bed. Now keep your knees bent and bring then down to one side. Basically you want to be laying so your upper body is flat and your lower half is on its side. This is also a great stretch for your hips and low back.

  • Raise up to do a crunch.
  • Keep the movement slow and controlled
  • Pause at the top, then release back to start

Keep in mind it does not take a big movement to work, you are working the muscle even if you are lifting your shoulders up 1 inch. I like to mix it up by doing half of the reps fast then other half slow, or slow then fast for a burn. I do 3 sets of 25-50 reps.

This is a great exercise, if you can do it, that will help you with sitting and transferring as well as rolling over in bed.

BACK | Lats

The lat( Latissimus Dorsi) is a muscle of the back. Pulldowns are the most basic exercise for this muscle. To perform this exercise you will need either an over door pulley or an exercise band. If pulley is used, some sort of resistance will need to be on opposite handle(you can wrap ankle weight to it)

Start with your arm extended upward, palm forward, slowly pull downward, make sure to keep elbows pointed out to the side, stop when arm is just past 90' and slowly control movement back up.

The further outside of the should your hand is to start, the more lat is focused on...when hand is above shoulder, you will use more bicep muscle to pull down.

This exercise also incorporates shoulder and bicep muscles.....10 reps 3-5 sets

Low Back | pelvis/hips/abs/glutes

Bridging is great for maintaining strength in the low back. Pelvic bridging is also a great exercise that strengthens the par spinal muscles, the quadriceps muscles at the top of your thighs, the hamstring muscles in the back of the thighs, the abdominals and the gluteal (butt) muscles. If you can, it is a great movement!. If you have any movement/strength in your hip/low back areas, you should give this a try, even the slightest movement can be built upon. You will need the aid of someone to sit on your feet and support your knees in place.

Lie flat, knees bent and feet flat on the floor about 6 inches apart....Push your hips towards the ceiling, hold at top for a few seconds and slowly lower back to start...3 sets 10-15 reps

LEGS | Quadriceps

This exercise will strengthen the quads. The quadriceps is a large muscle group, stretching from hip to knee, which makes up the front of the thigh. You can perform this movement with nothing, or if you have strength, you can add ankle weights for resistance.

From your sitting position, extended your leg out as straight as you can, hold for 3 seconds then slowly back to start...10reps 3-5 sets

Final notes

So, what you think about these wheelchair workouts ? Do you think these exercises for spinal cord injury may help you to cure smoothly? Let us know about your thinking .

Dennis P. Baughman

Dennis P. Baughman is the Editor of UnbeatenRolling. His disabilities couldn't stop him to be self driven person. He started this blog to share his personal knowledge about all kinds of wheelchairs and different tips and advice about chairs.

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