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What kind of exercise is safe if I have spina bifida?

If you have spinal bifida and want to start an exercise program first consult with your physician or medical professional on what type of exercise is appropriate for you or if you can even start an exercise program.

When starting an exercise program, make sure you are healthy and have approval from your physician. Choose a program that’s varied, fun and rewarding. The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability recommends that individuals with spina bifida exercise a minimum of five days a week, including strength training 3 to 4 days a week (2007).

Here is a list of general guidelines and safety recommendations provided by the NCPAD for individuals managing spina bifida:  

  • Many people with spina bifida have latex allergy. Always check beforehand to make sure that the exercise equipment is not made of latex.
  • Breathing: Breathe normally while performing exercises. Do not hold your breath. A useful technique is to slowly count 1-2 when performing the exercise action, and count 1-4 when going back returning to the starting position.
  • Posture: Sit up tall with both feet planted firmly on the floor.
  • Back support: To make sure that your lower back is supported, roll up a small towel and place it behind your back.
  • Rest: Give your muscles a day's rest between strength training sessions. If you are sore, wait until soreness has diminished before going back to strength training. Consult with your doctor if the muscle soreness lasts longer than two days.

When looking for an exercise program that you will stick to it is important to be creative and think of the movements that you can do and then make them fun and challenging. Check out NCPAD’s website (www.ncpad.org), for a sample workout plan that includes exercise descriptions and pictures.

A great way for teens with spina bifida to exercise is with a video made by the NCPAD, the Spina Bifida Association of America, and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago called "Teens on the move: an exercise video for teens with spina bifida." The video provides a complete exercise program consisting of a warm up and cool down, aerobic exercise, flexibility, balance and core strength training (NCPAD, 2006).

National Center on Physical Activity and Disability, NCPAD. (2007, March). Exercise for Individuals with Spina Bifida. Retrieved April 7, 2007 from http://www.ncpad.org/exercise/fact_sheet.php?sheet=273

National Center on Physical Activity and Disability, NCPAD. (2006, October). Teens on the move: An exercise video for teens with spina bifida. Retrieved April 7, 2007 from http://www.ncpad.org/exercise/fact_sheet.php?sheet=469

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.