You probably don’t realize how much muscle strength and balance control is necessary to remain seated for extended periods of time. This is even more important for people who are confined to wheelchairs or have conditions that prevent them from standing. People who have spinal cord injuries often have to use wheelchairs and they perform most of their daily tasks and activities while seated. “The ability to shift their weight voluntarily in different directions without losing stability is important. Sitting balance heavily influences wheelchair skills, especially for performing the wheelies required to ascend or descend a curb or other obstacles.” For this reason, a study investigated sitting Tai Chi for spinal cord injuries. The researches found out that Tai Chi practitioners had improved muscle strength and balance control.
The study involved eleven participants with spinal cord injuries (SCI). The researchers developed a 12-form sitting style of Tai Chi based on Yang’s style. This sitting form was designed to include, “shifting of weight while sitting, trunk rotation, upper limb joint mobilization, and muscle strengthening.” The goal of the form was to try and “counteract loss of strength in the lower limb and trunk muscles and unstable sitting balance.” The researchers made sure the form was simple and safe in a wheelchair or chair and could be performed anywhere at any time. The participants practiced the form for 90 minutes twice a day for 12 weeks. Their progress was compared to another group of participants with SCI who did not practice Tai Chi (the “control” group).
The Tai Chi practitioners in the study had significant improvements in their handgrip strength, their ability to shift their weight while remaining stable (not falling or tipping over), their ability to react quickly to shift their weight to remain stable and their ability to shift their bodies in different directions while remaining stable. This indicated to the researchers that Tai Chi increased the strength, muscle control and stability in these patients with SCI. While the results of this pilot study were promising, the researchers also recognized that a larger randomized study would be necessary to verify the effectiveness of sitting Tai Chi in SCI patients.
If you are in a wheelchair or have to do most of your tasks while sitting down, it is important to maintain your core strength, balance and control. If you can do so you can continue to perform many of your daily tasks on your own. It may also lead to decreased pain. Weak muscles and instability force your other body parts and muscles to overcompensate for the weak ones. Since those parts of your body were not meant to do all that work, that often leads to stress and strain which produces pain. Therefore, consider trying a sitting form of Tai Chi to remain strong, in control and independent.As always, consult with a medical professional before beginning a Tai Chi regimen.
William W. N. Tsang, Kelly L. Gao, K. M. Chan, Sheila Purves, Duncan J. Macfarlane, and Shirley S. M. Fong, “Sitting Tai Chi Improves the Balance Control and Muscle Strength of Community-Dwelling Persons with Spinal Cord Injuries: A Pilot Study,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2015, Article ID 523852, 9 pages, 2015. doi:10.1155/2015/523852