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5 Exercises for Better Core Strength as an Amputee (and Why You Need It)

5 Exercises for Better Core Strength as an Amputee (and Why You Need It)

Amputation takes away the body’s natural symmetry. Prostheses help, but retraining the muscles and developing the strength for the new movement patterns that come with limb loss take time. Your core lies at the heart of the majority of body movements, especially those that provide mobility and independence after an amputation. A strong core stabilizes the body when standing, walking, and even sitting. We’ve put together some core exercises to get you started, along with modifications for different types of amputations. 

Limb Loss and the Core 

When you hear the term “core muscles,” you immediately think of the abdominals like the rectus abdominis and the obliques. That’s not incorrect, but it’s not completely correct either. Your core consists of more than just your abs. It also includes the multifidus, the muscles in the back that attach to the vertebrae, and the glute and hip muscles. 

Crunches alone won’t provide the strength needed for the dynamic movements of everyday life. You don’t need to work every core muscle group every day, but a consistent effort to target the different muscles of the core will keep you on track for better balance and mobility. 

Core Exercise for Amputees

It’s important to support the body in healthy ways to maximize the benefits of each exercise and develop the muscles in healthy work patterns. However, you also need to maintain the skin’s health throughout any exercise routine. Apply moisturizer or a liquid-to-powder product to your residual to prevent irritation and chafing. Make sure to cleanse the residual and your liner after exercising to remove perspiration and bacteria. 

 

Man doing crunches at gym

Basic Crunches

Lie on the floor with the feet at hip-width apart and the knees bent. Interlinking your fingers except for the pointer fingers, which should point forward. Keep the arms straight as you tighten the abdominal muscles and use them to push your hands between your knees. Return to the start position.

Aim for ten crunches in a row. If that’s too hard, try for five. If 10 is too easy, try for 15 or start doing 3 sets of 10 or 20 to challenge yourself. 

Modifications

  • Cross the arms over the chest to make it harder.
  • Place a foam roller under the knees to maintain balance and equal muscle use on both sides of the body. 
  • DO NOT lock your hands behind your head. This position can strain the neck.

 

Man doing planks at gym.

Planks

If wearing a lower limb prosthesis, lie on the floor face down with the elbows directly under the shoulders and the feet hip-width apart. Tighten the abs, lower back, and glutes to lift the waist off of the floor and hold this position. The body should be in a straight line without the hips dipping below the shoulders. Hold for 10-15 seconds. 

You can do several shorter planks or try holding a single plank for a longer time until you’ve worked your way up to 60 seconds or more. 

Modifications

  • If doing a plank without a lower prosthesis on the residual, place a foam roller or other sturdy bolster under the residual to bring both legs to the same level. This makes sure there’s equal stress on both sides of the body. 
  • As you get stronger, you may be able to do a plank without your prosthesis or a foam roller. In this case, hold the plank while also holding your residual limb at the same level as the sound limb. 
  • Try a side plank by lying on your side with feet stacked and elbow directly under the shoulder. Use the obliques to lift the waist off of the floor. Switch sides to work both sides equally. 

 

Man in wheelchair doing chair crunches.

Chair Crunches

You can do many core exercises while sitting in a chair to make them easier when you’re first starting out. 

  • Sit in the chair with the knees at a 90-degree angle. Cross the hands over the chest, tighten the abs, and lean forward in the chair. Slowly come back to your starting position to complete a chair crunch. 
  • Hold a medicine ball or light dumbbell in your hands while sitting in a chair. Fully extend the arms. Tighten the abs and lower back muscles as you lift the weight from knee height to shoulder height. Slowly return the weight to the starting position. 
  • Hold a medicine ball or light dumbbell in your hands with arms extended straight out from the shoulders. Tighten the abs and lower back as you turn your torso to the right, keeping the hips still. Return to center, and twist to the other side

Bridge

Lie on your back with your knees bent with your foot and prosthesis directly beneath them. Place the arms relaxed to the sides of the body. Tighten the glutes and hamstrings to raise your hips until there’s a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Hold for a count of five to ten and release. Repeat. You can do this same exercise with a foam roller or other bolster under both knees to strength both sides equally and at the same time. 

Modifications

  • Instead of holding for 10 seconds, you can work up to holding a bridge for a minute or more. 
  • Single leg bridges are a good option for those with an upper leg amputation. They’re also a great progression for those who want more difficulty. You can use a foam roller under the residual, so you can do a single-leg bridge under both sides. 

Supermans

Lie face down on the floor with feet hip-width apart, and arms either straight ahead or stretched out to the sides. Gently lift all limbs by tightening the lower back. Hold for a count of five and release. 

Modifications

  • Only lift the arms or legs to gradually develop strength in the lower back. 
  • DO NOT do this exercise if it causes lower back pain. 

 

Woman sitting on exercise ball.

The Takeaway

A strong core can keep your muscles balanced and help maintain mobility. A few core exercises two to three times per week is enough to build and maintain strength. 

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