Recommendations  

If you are paralysed, it is important you take measures to prevent getting pressure ulcers.

Regular pressure relief in the wheelchair or in bed is essential to prevent pressure sores.

Skin care and pressure ulcers

Taking care of your skin is important if you have paralysis as you have an increased risk of developing a pressure ulcer.

Pressure ulcers develop when sustained pressure interrupts the blood supply to parts of the body. Blood contains oxygen and other nutrients required to keep tissue healthy. Without a constant supply of blood, tissue damage occurs and the tissue will eventually die.

Pressure ulcers do not develop in people with normal mobility because the body's regular movements stop pressure building up in any one part of the body.

For example, when you are asleep you may think you are lying still, but you will probably shift position up to 20 times a night.

If a person is unable to move regularly because of paralysis, pressure ulcers can quickly develop, sometimes over the course of a few hours.

Changing your position regularly is an effective way of preventing pressure ulcers. As a general rule, wheelchair users should change their position at least once every 15 to 30 minutes.

If you need to stay in bed, you should change your position at least once every two hours. If you are unable to change position yourself, a carer or relative can assist you.

Special cushions, mattresses and other pressure-relieving devices are also available to help reduce pressure on your affected limbs.

It's also important to keep the skin in the affected area clean and dry. Wet skin is more vulnerable to damage from sustained pressure.

Regularly check your skin for any signs of pressure ulcers. They usually begin as an area of red, unbroken skin that either feels warm and spongy or hard to the touch.

You can usually prevent affected skin getting worse by keeping it clean and not putting undue pressure on it until it has healed.

If the skin has broken or looks like an open wound or blister, you should contact your care team for advice.

Read more about pressure ulcers.

Exercise

If possible, it is important to exercise regularly and achieve a good level of fitness if you are paralysed. The reasons for this are:

  • the fitter you are, the better your general level of health will be and the lower your risk of developing complications
  • regular exercise will help improve your bladder and bowel function
  • improved muscle strength will make it easier for you to use a wheelchair or orthosis and prevent problems associated with using mobility devices, such as shoulder or arm pain
  • maintaining a certain amount of muscle strength will prevent your muscles in the affected limbs becoming severely weakened

In the first few days or weeks after the accident or injury that caused your paralysis, or as part of your long-term treatment plan, you will be introduced to a physiotherapist (a specialist in physical rehabilitation and exercise).

Your physiotherapist will discuss different exercises and activities you can do. Depending on the extent of your paralysis, recommended exercises and activities may include:

  • weightlifting  an excellent way to improve upper body strength
  • hand cycling  arm cycles are specially designed bicycles powered by turning handles with your hands, rather than pedals with your feet
  • horse riding
  • wheelchair basketball
  • wheelchair racing
  • wheelchair tennis

If your paralysis is so severe that you are unable to carry out any voluntary exercise, functional electrical stimulation (FES) may be recommended. FES uses electrodes (small metallic discs placed on your skin) to deliver electrical currents to the muscles in your legs or arms to stimulate movement.

Read more about FES.

People with extensive paralysis can use a FES bike to exercise. It is similar in appearance to a normal indoor exercise bike, but has a series of electrodes attached to your legs. These stimulate your muscles so you are able to turn the bike's pedals.

Further useful information and advice:

How to keep fit with a disability

Keeping fit with a disability is easier than you may think. Fitness instructor Mike Lee explains why exercise is important to help prevent obesity and cardiovascular disease. He also gives tips on how to find the right gym or what to do from home if you don't want to pay for a gym. Also watch other disabled people describe why they want to keep active.

Media last reviewed: 17/06/2015

Next review due: 17/06/2017

Fitness for wheelchair users

If you're a wheelchair user, getting active regularly will bring you important health benefits

Page last reviewed: 28/08/2014

Next review due: 28/08/2016