I have promised some tips, which are based on my experience and are tried and tested, and form the basis of my book, ‘Two Strokes Not Out’. These are not from a medical professional, although some are taken from or adaptations of recommended ones. Rather than only having an exercise plan, I try to build small habits into daily life; these may sound like nothing on first reading but if you think about how many times you repeat them throughout a day, then you will begin to see their value.
For ages I received physio treatments for my arm as I was not able to get out of a chair. I am now able to walk with the aid of a FES and a stick, so my leg has more physio than my arm, getting up to go to the bathroom, answering the door, putting the kettle on, so without the luxury of physio here are a few tips to exercise the arm.
- each time you get up from a chair take time and put as much weight as possible through both hands, even if you cannot feel you are doing so. Then roughly each day, three mealtimes alone, it adds up. Get a clean cloth to polish. To make it more difficult, put your strong hand on top of the weaker and practise polishing a surface.
- When you go to make a drink, put your weight on the work surface and rise onto your toes several times until the kettle has boiled.
- Get some dried butter beans, or twisted pasta, have them out when you are sitting with a drink, tip them onto the table and try to pick up one at a time with your weak side. It’s infuriating and you will drop them, but keep going until you can put them, one at a time, into their pot.
- Make sure every time you sit down, you put your weaker hand so that it is always in view. The brain must always see it. I talk about the importance of this in my book.
- Invest in a mirror box; the brain is a powerful tool! Put your weaker hand inside this box and exercise with the strong hand thus making the brain believe the weaker hand is doing the same. I talk about the power of the brain – as athletes have proven in my book.
- Returning to things you can do yourself, practise more in the kitchen, even if this means cooking the same or similar meals. Try putting the things you need higher up in the cupboards so that you have to reach and stretch. When you reach for things, lift your weaker hand up too until you can try and retrieve lighter things with it.
- You can buy special cutlery so you use your weaker hand when eating. You can buy a knife which looks like a bread knife and has a large handle that is a sort of loop, and a flat metal gadget which has a spike and grater attached. Little baskets can be put inside heavy saucepans, so once vegetables are cooked it is easy to lift them out with one hand. Wait for someone else to lift the saucepan full of water. I also use a steamer so the vegetables are layered in lighter containers. I used to like my heavy iron Le Creuset pans but they did require two good hands.
- Ask someone to put the ironing board up for you and start with small easy items. Put your weaker hand underneath whilst ironing with the strong hand. Even if you have to keep sitting down, have another attempt. It doesn’t matter you are trying, not just sitting doing nothing. If bigger items are difficult to iron use something like a fabric doorstop to act as your other hand to keep things on the ironing board. There is always a way.
Other useful all body exercises tips:
- Get some old tights and place two tennis balls inside. Get someone to tie them for you. Roll your good foot over them as firmly as possible. Attempt to do the same with your weaker side. This elongates the tendons in our calves, which would otherwise not get exercised. To test this, bend forward and try to touch your toes. Have someone with you holding you when you do this. Repeat the exercise after doing the tennis ball exercise. It is simple but works. You can rub onto your thighs, but this too can be painful.
- Again you need help for this: get someone to roll up a large towel like a Swiss roll and place onto the floor. It needs to be firm. Then let he or she help you down so the towel is running down your back between your shoulder blades. Lie still for a while. At first it maybe uncomfortable but you will soon feel your chest open, which is good. As we are forced to sit a great deal we often tend to fall into the habit of rounding our shoulders and leaning forward.
- To help balance your core – we need someone with us for this – sit on an exercise ball sit and hold something like your walking stick with both hands. Raise the stick above your head and lower it several times down to the floor but keeping balance on the ball. Then twisting from the waist, our waist becomes very stiff as we don’t move as normal people do due to our limitations. Doing this on a ball with someone standing behind, strengthens our core.
- Our thighs get forgotten and become weak. So when we get up from watching television or relaxing, try to get up without holding onto anything. First hold your tummy muscles in. Then try to stand for a few moments before sitting down again. Do this as slowly as you can. If you manage it, try and build it up to about six times. When can do this comfortably, try and incorporate a twist, so once standing twist slowly to one side then the other before sitting back down.
- Something else you should do is shrug your shoulders up towards your ears and down. Do it several times, perhaps after you have cleaned your teeth in the morning or evening. This is something that pre stroke days you wouldn’t flinch at. Now it is not so easy. So do what you can as it helps and relieves tension.
I have many design ideas to assist us further, but sadly to put them into place I need a person with the funds to come forward, just as I am trying to get funds together currently to turn my book into an audio version. My aim is to help so many but I need a person with a generous heart to provide some money to help neurological conditions. Until then I am a little stuck. I will find a way though somehow.
In the book, I also talk of alternative treatments. Now I realise these are not for everyone, but I cannot stress enough how one technique made my fingers move again. Both the practitioner and myself were in tears of joy as my two fingers flickered. These were part of my hand and arm that everyone had given up on.
Theses are just a few little things that can be incorporated into our daily lives without having to think ‘I’ve now got to do twenty minutes physio’. If you were to add it up each day, you would be doing a great deal more than that.
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