After a catastrophic injury or illness, you may feel you can no longer participate in the recreational activities you once enjoyed. But having a disability doesn't mean you have to give up your favorite sports or hobbies.

There are three broad categories of recreation you might be interested in:

  • Recreation therapy
  • Sports
  • Weight training & fitness

In addition, there are numerous associations and organizations designed to assist you in resuming old hobbies or finding new ones.

Recreational activities benefit you in many ways:

  • Physical activity improves your body's function, helps maintain your strength, and improves your cardiovascular system.
  • Exercising different muscle groups and performing various movements gives you a framework for discussing what you feel when you exercise. Your physician or therapist may want to know!
  • Recreation boosts your self-esteem, your self-image, and your confidence in your independence.
  • Recreational activities expose you to other individuals who, like you, have disabilities but want to remain active.

But how do you return to your old activities or take up new ones? One way is to transition from injury stabilization rehabilitation to recreation therapy.


Recreation Therapy

"Therapeutic recreation" is the provision of treatment and recreation services to individuals with disabling conditions. "Recreation therapy" is in the continuum of services offered by qualified professionals in the therapeutic recreation field.

Recreation therapy is planned treatment or therapy that uses recreation as the primary means of treatment. It is designed for people who have functional limitations due to illness or injury. Its goal is to restore, remediate, or rehabilitate—to improve functioning and independence, and reduce the effects of injury.

You can find therapeutic recreation services in many places. They cut across traditional service agents such as schools and social service agencies. Therapeutic recreation therapists promote client health and well-being regardless of client location, e.g., hospital, home, pool, worksite.

Recreation therapy is often offered by professionals who are trained, certified, or licensed to provide therapeutic recreation through home health agencies or through rehabilitation centers. Because many people don't know about recreational therapy, finding a recreational therapist can sometimes be frustrating.

The North Carolina Recreation Therapy Association provides a Web site listing of various Recreational Therapy vendors. Additional information about the field of recreation therapy may also be found at this site.


Sporting Activities

After your injury has stabilized and you've finished recreational therapy, you may be ready to embark on the challenge of sports. Developing a well-rounded fitness program and participating in organized sports help maintain overall good health.

Wheelchair sports have been used for enjoyment and rehabilitation since World War II, when members of Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) began playing wheelchair basketball. Since then, almost every sport has been adapted to allow people with disabilities to participate.

Wheelchair sports are an important tool in maintaining post-injury fitness and improving the social and mental aspects of life.

  • Developing the skills to master a particular sport or activity also improves your balance and mobility.
  • Sports like scuba diving and sailing allow you the opportunity to abandon your chair.
  • Fishing and hunting allow you to enjoy the outdoors.
  • Sports like track and swimming improve the cardiopulmonary system
  • Sports like weightlifting build muscle strength and mass.

A research study of New Zealanders with a wide range of disabilities found them engaging in the following activities

  • walking (53%)
  • gardening (14%)
  • cycling (13%)
  • playing with the family (11%)
  • gym and weight training (9%)
  • team sports (8%)

That study was conducted by the Hillary Commission and Workbridge, in 1994. A similar study conducted by Hanley in 1996 revealed that swimming (36.8%), wheelchair sports (28.7%), walking (25.7%), and ten pin bowling (25.7%) were frequent activities.


Weight Training & Exercise

If you prefer a regular exercise routine to organized sporting events, health and strength maintenance may be your goal. Within the realm of exercise equipment, your choices are vast.

Traditional Gym Memberships

Most gyms and fitness centers have modified their facilities to allow wheelchair access. Their advantage is that they have professional staff to instruct you on proper use of the machines and equipment. Many facilities offer indoor or outdoor swimming pools for lap swimming or water aerobics.

Also check with your local community centers or rehabilitation facilities to find out about fitness facilities that may be available at no or reduced cost.

Home Gyms

If a traditional gym doesn't appeal to you, home gyms are available. You can choose from various types of machines and equipment, depending upon your skill level and your goals.

You can use small hand weights to improve upper body strength, or weight machines to target toning in various parts of your body. However, it is recommended that you seek advice from your treating physician before purchasing such equipment or beginning an exercise program independently.


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