Paraplegic Gear/Tools of the Month: Baby Calves

Reading time: 2 minutes

I’ve talked before on how important it is to stretch, not explicitly, but sprinkled throughout other posts, such as How to Reduce Muscle Spasms for Paraplegics

If you took my advice, you came to the same heuristic conclusion – it matters. Stretching matters.

After not stretching for a while, or doing it wrong for a while (it’s possible), my legs will be much more tense, harder to move especially in the morning, though it does build up my muscles and tone.

Every morning as part of my routine, I stretch. I read while I do it because I like to be efficient. If I want to stretch throughout the day, it’s not as convenient because I’d either have to get on my bed or down to a yoga mat and I typically have full days.

Here’s what I’ve got for you. I discovered this while I was in post-rehab. Once I got back to college after staying in Shirley Ryan Ability Center, I went to see a physical therapist for the next few months.

BraceAbility Sleeping Stretch Boot (you don’t have to sleep to use it)

This is good for stretching calves, in fact that’s all it’s good for.
But maybe you can get creative.

I use it in two ways – stretching in the morning and stretching throughout the day.

The great thing about this is that you can be in a wheelchair, put this on, and stretch your calves (one at a time unless you buy two).

or

In the morning when I stretch my hamstrings, I have one leg out and my other leg’s ankle is resting just above the knee. It keeps my leg straight when I lean forward to stretch, but then my toes will point like in ballet or gymnastics.

I can either grab my foot and pull it back – a calf stretch that gets a bit tiring, keeps me from flipping pages, and then my hand smells like foot – or I place my foot in this (without strapping it down) and that keeps my foot upright.

This could also be good for nighttime use, though it could bruise or create pressure sores, so be cautious on how you wear it into the night. Wear it for a few hours and see what your foot looks like after and then make an executive decision.


Immediate actionable items: The only one I have is to buy this if you want to effectively stretch your calves. In fact, just stretch. Right now.

Summary: A calf stretcher boot.

Overdeliver:  If you want to stretch even more or stand up, you can get Knee-Ankle-Foot-Orthopedics (KAFOs), which are leg braces (what I’m wearing in the picture). I use them to stretch and stand – usually while studying, writing, or reading. Just don’t fall.

How to Reduce Muscle Spasms for Paraplegics

or anyone in a wheelchair

Reading time: 7 minutes

Well, I have to say a few things before we talk about this.

All of this information is derived from knowledge accrued over time from experience, asking questions, a little above average knowledge of anatomy, and what works for me. I’m not like anyone else, so none of this is actually guaranteed to help you, but I reckon it will. I’m not a doctor or anything like that either, so if you try this stuff and somehow get hurt, well, that’s on you, my friend.

Muscle spasms. Before I got injured, I had them occasionally. My definition is the involuntary contraction of muscles. If you aren’t in a wheelchair, maybe your eyelid was twitching or maybe some muscle, your shoulder perhaps, was twitching.

For myself and other people in a wheelchair with similar issues, and my understanding is that a lot of people in wheelchairs have these “issues,” muscle spasms are inconvenient, helpful, and sometimes dangerous. Overall, muscle spasms aren’t welcomed to most people. Personally, because I’ve mastered my body, I don’t have any issues with muscle spasms, and I have it under complete control. I’m hoping my advice will allow you the same.

We’ll be talking specifically about leg muscle spasms because that’s where my experience begins and ends.

For me, muscle spasms became a noticeable thing outside of rehab. I don’t actually remember if I had any while I was in rehab, but I’m sure I did and they were just so minimal that it didn’t make a difference enough for me to have a memory of it happening.

For paraplegics or anyone with some spinal cord injury and little to no motor control, nearly all movement or muscle contraction is considered (to me) a muscle spasm.

There are two common ways that I get muscle spasms and this will likely be different than yours, either my legs will lock straight out, with my hip, quadricep, calf, and hamstring muscles all contracting in some way. The second way is for my hamstrings to tighten and if I’m lying down, it’ll draw my knees inward. Other than these two, my calves alone might have a muscle spasm and my feet will go tip-toe while I’m in my chair. Sometimes my leg will just jump, which seems like a rapid contraction of my quadricep and hip muscles.

Now for the main event.

Here’s the breakdown:

When muscle spasms happen

Stopping a muscle spasm

Mitigating muscle spasms

When do muscle spasms happen? What causes them?

Reactionary – hurt, touch/temperature, after stretching, or from not stretching/moving
Movement – lying back, bumped the leg, bumpy ground
E.T. – a questionable occurrence

There are a few things for me that are known to cause muscle spasms. To start with how muscle spasms can be helpful, my legs will react to pain or something outside of the “normal.”

When I was in rehab, I remember this happening for the first time when I was in the shower and sprayed cold water on my feet and they kind of jumped away from the water. Don’t try this with hot water, cold is fine though.

Sometimes I’ll hit my toe on something and I’ll get a similar reaction. This is helpful because it indicates to me that maybe something happened that hurt me and since I only feel a negligible level of pain, that muscle spasm tells me I should check and see if I just cut my leg or burned my toe.

So, one reason for muscle spasms can be called reactionary. This is something that you can’t stop from happening, it happens from the environment, and it mostly helps.

A few more reasons for a reactionary muscle spasm would be touch and stretching. When I go to massage therapy, my legs might have some type of muscle spasm after someone touches the bottom of my foot.

If you don’t stretch regularly, then you should, but if it’s been a while and you stretch for the first time, then you may notice some muscle spasms of whichever muscle you stretched.

If you have a common muscle spasm of a specific muscle and your leg moves in a certain way, that’s a good sign that you should be stretching more. If my hamstrings aren’t well stretched, then I might have muscle spasms that bend my leg in.

Movement muscle spasms occur as a reaction to a certain movement. This can be useful depending on what happens, but more than that, it’s predictable. For me, this is when I lay back or anytime my torso is 150 degrees or more from my legs. I see this as my body wanting to stand up when my body goes straight as if I were to be standing up.

This is predictable and because of that, I can tell when a transfer or something I do might induce a muscle spasm and I can plan accordingly. Also, if you’ve seen the video of my getting into an aircraft, you’ll notice that I was hanging out of the doorway and then my legs had this muscle spasm and then I stood up on my feet and it helped me get into the plane.

Another movement type spasm is when I’m in the wheelchair and going over gravel or some very uneven surface. When there is a lot of shaking or bumps, it will make my calves have a muscle spasm and my feet will go tippy-toe or slide forward, both aren’t an issue but can be annoying. A great solution, absolutely amazing solution is here.

Then, there are of course the muscle spasms that you can’t quite figure out why they happen. There is definitely a reason, but it isn’t obvious without more analysis than its worth. This could be when you’re laying down and your leg will twitch or sitting down and your foot will raise.

Stopping a muscle spasm

Brute force – moving against the muscle spasm
Patience – waiting for it to go away
Prediction – putting something in place to stop the muscle spasm

It isn’t always convenient when a muscle spasm happens, it can slow things down, cause a transfer to go awry, and maybe even keep you from doing something momentarily.

The thing with muscle spasms is that they don’t last, and for me, their potency over immediate time decreases in the same way a bouncy ball will. Meaning that if I lay back and my legs lock straight out, I wait for it to stop, sit back up, then lay down again, and the muscle spasm won’t happen or be as powerful.

The first tactic and my favorite is to just be patient. Let it happen, wait it out and then it’ll subside. If you do the same movement or do something reactionary that causes a muscle spasm multiple times within the same few minutes, you might find that after the second or third time there is no muscle spasm.

Aside from waiting it out, you can go for brute force, which I don’t think has any negative effect. Basically, if my foot is raised while I’m in a wheelchair, it’s because my calf is tightening (think of when people do calf raises for working out) and I will sometimes just push down on my knee to make my foot go flat again. This doesn’t always stop the muscle spasm completely, but for the calf example, it keeps my foot from being raised.

Another example of brute force would be going against the muscle. What this looks like for me is when I lay back and my legs go straight out, my hip muscles are also activating and cause my torso to be pushed back (to lie down completely), if I’m able to get my chest to my knees, this will stop the muscle spasm entirely. So, there may be a muscle spasm that happens when you do something and you can brute force your way to stop it by doing a counter movement.

As for the method of prediction, much like I mentioned earlier with the belt to keep your feet on your footplate, there may be things you can do to stop a muscle spasm from happening at all. When you do a transfer or a general movement and you know what does and generally doesn’t cause a muscle spasm, then you can either be prepared and have your hands in place to counter the muscle or have something ready so that it doesn’t catch you off guard.

Mitigating muscle spasms

Movement – leg bike
Stretching – stretches

There are really two ways to stop muscle spasms from happening. But before I elaborate, the cheap seats might’ve missed that this is all from my experience and it’s plausible that none of this will apply, or all of it will work swimmingly.

I mentioned before that muscle spasms will reduce in strength and occurrence when you are doing the same thing over and over within some amount of time. If there is some specific movement you do that causes a muscle spasm and you do it repeatedly within a few minutes, the muscle spasms will reduce.

There are machines that you can use to move your legs. The one I used is pictured below and I could use my arms to move the pedals and those would make my legs move. In the beginning, my legs weren’t cooperating, but after 20 minutes, it was going smoothly, and afterward, I didn’t have any muscle spasms for any reason.

Not only is this healthy for you overall, but it also gets your legs moving in a way that can stop muscle spasms by giving them continuous movement.

If there isn’t a machine available, the next best way to mitigate muscle spasms is by stretching. When stretching out, it’s important to know that holding a stretch for an hour won’t help, it’ll actually hurt. You need to treat stretching like a workout, so sets and reps. It might look like pulling back your foot to stretch your calf 4 times each foot for 2 minutes each time, with a little break in between.

Staying well stretched is to infinity and beyond important. Sitting down all day or most of the day, avoiding technical terms, is not good for your muscles or body. If you expect to recover, and I fully expect that, then you should be preparing for it everyday by staying healthy and keeping your body in its best condition.


Immediate actionable items: Determine when you’ll start stretching and create a routine.

Summary: Muscle spasms are involuntary muscle contractions that can become a nuisance. We talk about why muscle spasms might be happening, how to stop them when they do and how to prevent that from happening or reduce the frequency.

Overdeliver: If you’re able to use a machine that moves your legs for you, close your eyes and visualize walking. I would do this as well as watch videos of myself walking before I got injured, if you have those, they might help.

Welcome to Team Cosmo

Hey!

This is my first “blog.” I wanted to at least have one or two for you when you got here.

I’m hoping to have at least one blog post per week. They may be short, like a little paragraph weekly challenge or long enough to split into two separate posts. I’m focusing on two things, equally ranked: give value, have fun. I enjoy giving value, so, having fun while doing it should be easy 😉

Also,

I’m extremely excited! Not only am I able to reach and help more people, but I’ll improve my writing skills, and I really enjoy writing.

Even though I don’t have much in terms of blog posts, all the pages on this site have a lot of new info on them, stuff I haven’t talked about on Instagram or YouTube. I think the Cosmo page has the most on it. I had fun writing that one.

As I’m writing this, I just finished recording about 20 minutes of video content for Instagram.

I’m in Australia and I did a campus tour & talk. All about my time hear up to this point. More or less rambled about my time here, and ranted and raved about the nature on the the campus. It’s probably a little cringey but I was just free flowing, having fun recording some videos.

I’m also putting this blog in every category that I’ve made so you ‘ll have an idea of what kind of topics we’ll cover together. More will be added over time.

For now, check out my Instagram and YouTube after you’ve gone through all the pages on this amazing website!

There are a couple forms you could fill out on the FAQ page and the Keynote page

Remember to share this website, you never know who it could help.

Much love to Team Cosmo

Stay healthy!

-Cosmo

PS, I’m writing this post while outside doing a time lapse of the sunset for my Instagram video and I got bit TWICE on my pinky by mosquitoes. That’s the type of devotion I have to Team Cosmo