Exercise Concepts for Individuals with Syringomyelia

by Jim Cavanaugh, PT, NCS Duke University

Many individuals with Syringomyelia (or Chiari I Malformation) can benefit from a consultation with a physical therapist familiar with the evaluation and treatment of neurological problems. Answering “yes” to any of the following questions indicates that you may have needs with which a physical therapist can help you.

1. Do you have difficulty

  • Positioning, turning or moving in and out of bed?
  • Moving from sitting to standing?
  • Moving from a wheelchair on to your bed, commode, or car seat?
  • Getting on and off the floor?
  • Getting in and out of the tub or shower?
  • Walking over level ground, indoors or out?
  • Walking over uneven ground outdoors?
  • Climbing stairs?
  • Falling, tripping, or stumbling?
  • Walking endurance?
  • Poor balance or weakness which limits your walking?

2. Do you have physical difficulty performing household tasks or work-related duties?

3. Do you have questions about exercise? Do you exercise regularly? Are you involved in a lifetime fitness program?

4. Do you experience pain and/or stiffness in your spine or extremities?

5. Do you experience excessive fatigue or dramatic fluctuations in your energy levels?

6. Do you have difficulties using mobility aids (crutches, canes, wheelchairs) or other equipment?

  • Is your equipment appropriate?
  • Is it well maintained?
  • Does it fit well?

Individuals with injuries or conditions which affect the brainstem and/or spinal cord experience a variety of symptoms and degrees of disability. In all cases, however, there is a potential risk for diminished activity levels and mobility. The secondary affects of this decline can result in further medical problems and functional limitations.

Although sensory loss, neurogenic pain and weakness, bowel/bladder dysfunction, and spasticity generally are not reversible through exercise, their impact on function may be moderated. In addition, secondary symptoms of disuse weakness, muscle and joint stiffness, fatigue, musculoskeletal pain, and unsteadiness may be improved through specific exercise.

Currently there are no available medically sanctioned generic exercise guidelines for individuals with Syringomyelia. All individuals are recommended to consult with a physical therapist familiar with neurological conditions for specific recommendations. Physical therapy services are available in every state and often require a physicians prescription.