After a spinal cord injury, people often have to use a wheelchair, but sitting too much can result in secondary complications. Being able to stand regularly can benefit your health. It may seem impossible when you’re living with paralysis, but you may have options for standing after a spinal cord injury.
My name is Mason Ellis, and I’m been a C5 through C7 quadriplegic. In addition to writing blog posts for 180 Medical, I make informative spinal cord injury-related videos on my YouTube channel.
I know firsthand about the potential complications of sitting in a wheelchair too long as well as the benefits of standing. Check out my helpful video about the health benefits of standing after spinal cord injury below, and keep reading for more information.
Health Risks of Sitting
In the last few decades, researchers have found out that sitting for prolonged periods of time may be bad for your body.
According to WebMD, sitting too much may increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. People in wheelchairs face additional health risks. For example, we are at higher risk of pressure sores, poor blood circulation or blood clots, bladder and bowel dysfunction, osteoporosis (poor bone health), and even difficulty breathing.
Also, leg muscle contracture is a common problem in the spinal cord injury community. This is because we’re sitting in our wheelchairs with our legs bent for most of the day, which can cause muscles, tendons, or joints to tighten or shorten. If muscle contractures get bad enough, some people experience bent legs even when they’re lying down.
However, standing more frequently may help prevent those complications.
Health Benefits of Standing After a Spinal Cord Injury
Here are some of the potential health benefits of standing after a spinal cord injury.
Helps Reduce Risk of Pressure Sores and Blood Clots
First, one obvious benefit of standing is that it may decrease the risk of getting pressure sores, which is a widespread problem among people with spinal cord injuries.
Standing may reduce the frequency of getting pressure sores, or it might even help eliminate them altogether. This is because standing takes the pressure off the bottom, which is where pressure sores often occur.
Oxygenated blood can circulate more freely throughout the body while standing, which improves circulation and could even reduce the risk of blood clots.
May Improve Bone and Muscle Health
After a spinal cord injury, your leg bones and muscles don’t get the same amount of movement and weight-bearing exercise that they did prior to your injury. Bearing body weight by standing may help make bones in the legs stronger, which is important because osteoporosis is common in people with spinal cord injuries.
Osteoporosis is when bones become weak and have a greater chance of breaking or becoming fractured from minor falls and bumps. Bones become weakest during the first couple of years after a spinal cord injury.
Standing and exercising may help reduce the risk of osteoporosis while strengthening bones. Plus, by standing or regularly moving through exercise, you may prevent muscle contractures and muscle spasms.
Standing gives the internal organs more room by opening the internal cavity, including the lungs. When you’re in a standing position, the diaphragm has more space to help your lungs expand and contract, which may help you breathe more easily.
Sitting limits the amount of space your diaphragm and lungs can take up, while standing may help strengthen the lungs. This makes it easier to talk and cough.
May Enhance Bowel and Bladder Function
Standing may also help enhance your bowel and bladder function. By standing, this activates the stomach muscles while allowing gravity to help with digestion. This may help you stay on a bowel management program and prevent accidents.
When sitting, the bladder also doesn’t have as much room. Pressure against a full bladder can cause urinary incontinence, which is common for people with paralysis. By standing more often, you may be able to prevent urine leaks or even urinary tract infections.
Optimizes Overall Wellbeing and Quality of Life
Standing has so many more amazing benefits. Not only does it decrease the risk of a lot of complications, but it’s also great for improving your quality of life. It’s nice to be able to have eye-to-eye conversations or reach things more easily while standing. Plus, it can help improve your mood, increase your stamina, and help you sleep better.
Standing is what your body is supposed to do!
Options for Standing After Spinal Cord Injury
Now that you know some of the health benefits of standing, let’s go through some of the options for standing after a spinal cord injury.
One of the best ways to get the medical benefits of standing still in one spot is using a standing frame, such as the EasStand Evolv.
Standing wheelchairs, such as one made by The Standing Company, allow you to stand multiple times a day while being mobile. Plus, you may get all those potential health benefits of standing.
Check out my video review of the Superstand Standing Wheelchair for more information.
I’m also in the process of getting a new Permobil F5 Corpus VS Standing Wheelchair, which you can see in the below picture.
While this isn’t an option for everyone, some people may be able to stand or even walk using leg braces. However, you need some control over your leg muscles for leg braces to work for you.
Creating a Standing Routine
Let’s discuss the importance of having a standing routine. Consistency is critical, so you need to establish a habit of regularly standing. Many standing frames become clothing racks over time because people are not consistent with their standing program.
I get in my standing frame for 30 minutes Monday through Friday and 60 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays. I stand up in my standing frame in shorter ten-minute sessions. So I stand with my standing frame three times a day during the week and six times a day on Saturdays and Sundays.
In the below video, I share how I stand and explain a bit more about my standing routine.
You may be able to decrease your risk of complications in as little as 30 minutes a day. However, it’s better to stand 10 times for three minutes a day than three times for 10 minutes a day. Both total 30 minutes, but you get the most health benefits by moving from a seated to a standing position.
However, before starting a routine, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor or a qualified rehabilitation therapist. They can determine what’s best for you based on your individual health and level of paralysis. Also, they may be able to help you find standing equipment.
Precautions to Take Before Beginning a Standing Routine
As you begin, take it slow. You might experience some dizziness or lightheadedness at first as your blood flows down to your legs with gravity. This may happen until your body acclimates to standing.
Also, you might want to have a loved one or caregiver nearby as you begin a standing routine to prevent possible falls or accidents. Plus, depending on the severity of your spinal cord injury, you may need help getting out of your wheelchair and into your standing frame or standing wheelchair.
Be sure to check out and subscribe to my YouTube channel for more videos about life with a spinal cord injury.
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult your physician for medical advice or in the case of an emergency.