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Wheelchair Bound? Here Are 4 Ways To Improve Your Blood Circulation

Updated on January 23, 2013

Individuals who are confined to a wheelchair face many health challenges that those with greater mobility. One very basic need for the wheelchair bound is to simply improve blood circulation to the various parts of the body, particularly the legs and feet.

There are four types of exercises that can be performed while sitting in a wheelchair that will help you to improve your circulation. They are stretching, upper body exercises, leg and foot exercises, and massage, and all four of these exercise options should be performed at least once per day.

Stretching To Improve Circulation

The first exercise you should perform in your daily routine is stretching. Here are several simple stretches you can perform by yourself or with assistance. Be sure to always move slowly, stop before you feel pain, and never bounce or perform sudden movements while stretching.

  • Arm Raises To The Sides - Start with your arms hanging down loosely at your sides. Slowly bring both arms out to the sides in a wide arc and continue raising them all the way up over your head. Then slowly reverse the movement until your arms are all the way back down at your sides. Be sure to keep a slight bend in the elbows to reduce elbow strain during the exercise.
  • Arm Raises To The Front - Start with your arms resting at your sides. Slowly raise your right arm straight out in front of you and continue all the way up until your arm is stretched out above your head. Slowly return your arm back to the starting position and repeat with the other arm. Be sure to keep your arm movement under control at all times so that your arm does not simply drop while returning to the starting position.
  • Superman Stretch - Okay, it's more like a half Superman, really. All you're going to do is point your arms straight ahead - with your palms facing down- just like the Man of Steel does when he flies off into the sunset. Next, slowly bend your elbows as you bring them out to the sides and as far back as they'll go. The return to the starting position and repeat.

Upper Body Exercises For Improved Circulation And Strength

Now that your shoulders and arms are warmed up from performing your stretches, it's time to increase the intensity just a bit and do some strength building exercises. You can use light hand weights, dumbells, or bands to add resistance and get in a great little workout. These exercise below will improve your muscular strength, joint stability, flexibility and circulation. Perform them every day if you can.

  • Biceps Curls - This is a favorite among bodybuilders as it strengthens the biceps muscles of the upper arms. Don't worry, though, you're not going to look like the Incredible Hulk just by using weights. Start with your arms straight down at your sides, with a light dumbell in each hand. Without moving your upper arm too much, bring your left dumbell up towards your shoulder, then slowly lower it to the starting position and repeat with your other hand. You don't really need to worry about which direction your palms are facing as you raise and lower the weights. Just move in a way that feels natural and doesn't place excessive strain on your wrists.
  • Shoulder Presses - Using both arms simultaneously, bring those dumbells up to the top position of the last exercise (curls). So your arms should be bent with your elbows pointed down and the dumbells up around your shoulder level. Now slowly raise both dumbells straight up over head. You don't have to make them touch at the top of the movement, but if you love to hear that little klink at the top then go for it. Then just slowly lower the weights straight back down to the starting position and repeat.
  • Triceps Extensions - For this exercise you'll want to use a lighter weight than you used for the previous exercises, or even no weights at all. Using one arm at a time, simply start with your right dumbell straight up overhead. Keeping your elbow pointed straight up at the sky, bend your arm and slowly allow the dumbell to come down behind your head. Stop at whatever point feels comfortable for you - without putting too much stress on the elbow joint - and then slowly raise the weight back up to the top. Be sure to keep that elbow pointed upwards throughout the movement, and feel free to use your left hand to brace your upper arm. After doing all the repetitions with your right hand, just switch the dumbell into your left hand and repeat with that arm.

Lower Body Exercises For Improved Circulation And Strength

After completing your upper body exercises, take a break for a couple of minutes to let your heart rate come back down a little. After catching your breath, it's time to begin your leg exercises. Limited strength in your legs and feet is obviously the reason you're in a wheelchair in the first place, so just do what you can. And if you can't do any of these leg exercises, then you can skip this part and go straight to the massage (lucky you).

  • Knee Ups - Knee ups are a great exercise that works your core, hips, and buttocks. Start by raising your right knee up towards your chest and then slowly lower it back to the starting position and repeat with the other leg. How far should you bring your knee? As high as you can comfortably raise it. Hold onto your armrests to help you keep your balance and stabilize your upper body.
  • Leg Extensions - Straighten your right or left leg so that your leg is just about parallel to the floor, then slowly return to the starting position and repeat with the other leg. If performing these exercises with your shoes on is difficult, then try doing them with bare feet to make it easier. You'll be surprised at how much easier it is to do these exercises with those shoes off!
  • Calf Raises - Flip your foot rests up and set your feet flat on the floor. Now simply press the balls of your feet into the floor and raise those calves up. You can actually do a lot of repetitions of this exercise, so do 10 or 20 or more!
  • Toe Raises - This exercise works your shins and will improve your foot strength. With your feet flat on the floor, simply raise your toes without your heels leaving the floor. Slowly come up as high as you can, lower and repeat. Just as with the calf raises, you should be able to do many of these before you start to get tired.

Massage Your Legs To Improve Blood Circulation

Massage is also important for improving bloodflow through your legs and feet, especially if you are unable to perform exercises for the legs and feet. You can massage your thighs yourself several times per day, and then you can also have somebody else massage your lower legs and feet.

Not only does massage work wonders for your circulation, it feels pretty good too!


Weights And Reps

When you're first beginning this program, you might want to start out with no weights at all and just use the weight of your arms and legs. When you are ready to add some resistance (weight) - to the biceps curls, for instance - start out with the lightest weights available. One pound dumbells are perfect for the first week or two. Then you can gradually increase the weights a little each week.

Start out with only five repetitions per exercise, and then add one or two more reps to each exercise each week. If at any time you feel soreness, stop immediately and end your workout. Little aches and pains are very normal - especially during the first month of a new exercise routine - but there's no need to try to push through the pain. Take your time and don't hurt yourself. Slow and steady progress - with no injuries - should be your goal.


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