Exercising with a disability
Exercise is good for us in so many ways. Whether you’re able bodied, disabled, suffer from mental health problems, have a chronic long term condition it doesn’t matter as exercise will benefit you in some way. At the start of this year I met Mark, who came to the clinic for some advice on what type of exercise he could do to improve his leg strength. His story is something that I’d like to share and he hopes it will inspire other people with disability to make positive changes to their lifestyle. Disability should never be a barrier.
Mark was born in 1965 with Spina Bifida; a condition that effects the development of the spine and spinal column when the baby is in the womb. Symptoms often include weak or paralyzed leg muscles. Aged 7 he underwent surgery to lengthen tendons in his right leg and after as spell in plaster he had rehabilitation to enable him to walk again. At school he found it hard to do mainstream exercise, so he often walked or rode his bike. He struggled with breathlessness and his legs would sometimes give way from under him causing him to fall.
He trained as an upholsterer and then took on a job in a canteen but unfortunately his health deteriorated, and he was forced to give it up. In 1995 he was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma; a cancer of the lymph system. Mark had chemotherapy, but the disease returned 2 years later so more chemo was required. Thankfully he was given the all clear and continues to have yearly check ups to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned. Mark started having back pain around this time and x-rays showed he had deterioration of the bones in his spine. He lost both his parents to cancer and sadly had to sell the family home and move to a small house in Kimberley. All these events took a toll on Marks health and his weight rocketed to 16 stone. He was diagnosed with high blood pressure and was put on medication to control it. He was also suffering from debilitating back pain exacerbated by his excess weight.
Mark with a photo of him at his heaviest
When Mark moved in to his own home he made a conscious effort to lose weight and slowly his weight came down to 12 stone. He currently uses a walking stick and has an electric wheelchair for outdoors and has maintained his weight loss.
At the start of 2018 Mark came to see me at the clinic for some advice on how he could get a bit stronger and improve his fitness. He was already doing some exercises at home and due to his weight loss, his back pain had improved. I knew Mark would benefit from increasing his activity levels and thanks to a great referral scheme that Liberty Leisure offer for appropriate patients I was able to recommend he joined up. Mark had felt he couldn’t do much exercise due to his ‘crumbling’ spine, weak legs and disability. I knew that even a small amount would benefit him and was keen to support him to making the first step.
Mark was very anxious about going to the leisure centre, so I offered to accompany him to have a look around. I don’t know what its like to have a disability or to have gone through what mark has but I do know what its like to be different and try something knew in an alien environment.
Mark wrote about how he felt on his first visit, so I thought it was important to let you read his words:
“The first time I went to the gym was to have a look at the equipment, but I was worried I wouldn’t be able to use it (Mark doesn’t have a smart phone or the internet). My friend Kerstine said I will be ok and she helped me get through the first time. The next time we both went up and Kerstine left me to do it on my own, but I knew she was only at the other side of the gym if I needed her. I’ve been 12 times, 4 of which were on my own. I’ve kept a book to write to write down how I’ve been doing. I once asked Kerstine how she thinks I’ve done since I started, and she says I’ve improved which makes me happy. I’m pleased with myself for how far I’ve come since that first visit. “
Mark says the main reason he wanted to go to the gym was to strengthen his legs and lower back. The gym instructor was helpful and got Mark set up on equipment that suited his needs. We gradually introduced new pieces of equipment and Mark continued to write down his progress at each session.
Mark had never been in a gym before but has tried some of the weights machines and is keen to work on upper and lower body strength
Mark has had a few set backs along the way. He had to have 4 weeks off due to infection in his foot, so he was unable to weight bare very well or get his shoes on. He also had some shoulder discomfort which comes and goes. Mark was particularly low in mood when his feet were painful and he missed being able to go the gym. He is thankfully on the mend and felt confident enough to head back to the gym recently. His goals are to one day be able to cycle outside again, improve his overall strength so it makes walking easier, to continue using the gym and incorporate new machines and exercises. He is keen to manage his pain with exercise. Mark is hopeful that he may one day get back on his bike and in the meantime, he hopes that other wheelchair users or people with disabilities will see him using the gym and be inspired to having a go. He says the staff are helpful and the entire process has changed his lifestyle for the better.
As a physiotherapist this is a hugely inspirational story. Its been a pleasure watching Marks confidence grow and although the setbacks hit him hard hopefully he can get back to a regular routine of visiting the gym 2-3 times a week. If you would like any more information on using the facilities at Kimberley Leisure Center or one of the other Broxtowe Leisure Facilities please contact Helenka Kruczkowska (membership advisor) firstname.lastname@example.org