Why stretching is so important for contractures and spasticity?
- It helps their stiffness/pain level
- It makes it easier for you and them
- Builds strength and ability
Derek and Dylan both have spasticity, contractures, PMD Leukodystrophy, and Mitochondria’s disease. All of these diagnoses can cause muscles to become stiff, lock up, and not be able to move very well. Ultimately this can cause pain in the joints, muscles, and bones. Trying to transfer, dress, bathe, or any number of daily activities you could be fighting their bodies just to get through the day. Daily movement can greatly increase blood flow, ability, pain, and stiffness. This is why a stretching routine is so important for not only contractures and spasticity but for anyone with a physical disability.
As we age it may become more difficult to move without a regular exercise and stretching routine. You wake up in the morning feeling stiff. You begin moving those joints around, stretch your muscles, you begin to feel better, and continue on with your day. What if you laid in the bed for more than 2 or 4 hours a day? How would you feel? Your body becomes stiff. Your joints become rigid and it becomes more difficult to move. This is what happens to those individuals that have limited physical abilities. Again, this is why stretching routine is so important.
What can we do to include stretching routine into our schedule?
We can talk with a specialist, a physician, or a coach. We can always come up with an exercise plan ourselves or our children. I look to our physical and occupational therapists to get ideas, to find the best strategies for stretching, and to develop a home exercise plan that we can follow at home. Let’s think about the benefits and how easy it really can be. I stretch Derek 3 times a week and Dylan only 2 times a week. That’s right only 2 times. Dylan has therapy at school and outside of school right now. Before Derek aged out of pediatric services his therapists made sure to give us the tools to help us as he aged out of pediatrics. Creating a stretching routine will continue to help well into adulthood
With our schedule….. We stretch 3 times a week. Each session may last up to 30 or 45 minutes. Throughout the week I help Derek stretch roughly 2-2.5 hours a week. I help stretch Dylan about 1 ½ hours a week. So, about 4 hours a week, and we are all done!
How much time does it take to follow a stretching routine?
We are also blessed to have standers that both the boys can use. They are able to stand for about 30 minutes to an hour 2 or 3 times a week. That can depend on our schedule and activities. We strive for 3 times and meet that goal 80% of the time. All we have to do is make sure their braces are on, help them into their stander, and watch tv. This helps them with the weight bearing portion of their weekly stretching routine. They are able to adjust their height on their own and let themselves down with a lever.
Next, we keep small weights available anytime they wish to build muscle tone in their arms. We have hand exercise balls to squeeze in their hands to build strength. Anything to create an atmosphere that encourages physical exercise. I have walked in Derek’s room and he was working on his pushups all on his own. We talk about how important it is to push through your legs when being picked up. How important it is to hold on tight with their arms when being picked up. We put a pillow or a wedge between their legs to help with abductors and for back support. Even as we get older, tummy time can be just as important. I encourage the boys to lay on their stomachs as it increases the stretch they get on their hips, their knees, and lets gravity do the work for us. We also use wedges to support them while laying in the floor.
Setting up a Home Therapy Program
There are also many videos on YouTube that teach you how to do different exercises, even wheelchair exercises. You can find most anything online. Most importantly, check with your therapist, doctor, or a specialist before designing a home therapy program. They will be able to help you develop the best plan and make sure you stay safe and healthy.
When most people think of exercise we tend to procrastinate and not want to go through the effort. At any point, do a quick stretch, pick up weights, and get moving. It is a lot of the little things we do everyday that make the difference in the long run. It doesn’t have to be going to a gym or any huge commitment. Our home program has been developed from trial and error, hard work, and a wonderful group of doctors, therapists, and specialists. Our second family! Thanks to such a great team the boys have the strength, ability, and live their lives to the fullest.