Taking care of your body
Some people think having a disability means you are sick. This is not true. But having a disability may mean you need to take more care in your daily routines to stay healthy.
As a disabled woman, you know and understand your body better than anyone else. For example, you know you may not rely on pain to tell you something is wrong—you need to check your body carefully and regularly every day, especially the parts you cannot feel or see. Or if you have an unusual feeling, or body reaction, or a pain somewhere, or any sores or illnesses, you try to find out as soon as possible what might be causing it. When it is necessary, you ask a family member, friend, or someone you trust to help you.
This chapter has information to help you stay healthy and prevent many health problems. If you need assistance with daily care, this chapter has information to help your family and caregivers to provide that assistance.
Prevent anemia (weak blood)
Keep your body moving
Exercise can be fun
Try to find exercise that is fun. Some women like to ride a donkey or burro. Controlling the animal, moving your body to respond to its movements, and keeping your balance are all forms of exercise.Try to exercise with another person. You are more likely to keep exercising when you are also spending time with a friend. It is also good to have another person who can give help if you need it.
For many women with disabilities, swimming and moving in the water is a very good way to exercise. Because your body weighs less in the water, women who have a hard time moving or walking can often move better in the water. Or they have less pain in the water. Swimming is the best exercise for someone with arthritis.
If you use a wheelchair, try to push it around your community by yourself. If this is not possible, try lifting objects (such as rocks, cans of food, or a bottle filled with water) over and over again. This will help keep the muscles and bones in your shoulders and arms strong.
How to lift: Before you lift, sit up as straight and tall as you can. Take a deep breath in, and then out. As you blow out, pull your shoulder blades back toward your spine as you lift the object. Take another deep breath in as you hold the object, and then blow out as you lower the object back down slowly.
Stretch your muscles
Stretching your muscles makes them more flexible, so you can bend and move more easily. For many women with disabilities, stretching regularly means they feel less pain. Stretching also helps prevent injuries.
Always stretch before you begin hard work or exercise. Stretching and starting gently will help keep you from hurting yourself and hurting your muscles. It is also a good idea to stretch after doing exercise or hard work. Stretching can also help keep your body flexible, and prevent pain and weakness as you grow older.
Women with limited movement may have to experiment to stretch certain muscles. Sometimes, you may need another person to help you. If someone else helps you stretch, make sure they move the muscle slowly. Then, you can tell them to stop when you feel a stretch.Some people like to put ice, or a warm cloth or towel, or a heat pack (if available) on their muscles before stretching. You
can try this yourself to see if it makes your body feel better.
Many women with tight muscles stretch every morning before
they start the day’s work, so they do not hurt as much during the
day. At night, they stretch again to help sleep better and to have
less pain after a long day.
Other women find they can stretch a muscle while doing some
other task. If you can, find ways to include stretching in your everyday activities.
If you have tight muscles, paralysis from cerebral palsy or a spinal cord injury, or joint pain
Women who have painful joints or tight (spastic) muscles should be careful with exercises such as running or lifting heavy things. These kinds of exercises can put too much stress on the muscles and joints. They can hurt your muscles instead of making them stronger.
Relaxing tight (spastic) muscles
Women with cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, or spinal cord injuries often have muscles that are very tight and stiff (spastic muscles). A muscle may get very stiff or shake, and the woman may not be able to control how it moves. To help with tight spastic muscles:
•Do not pull or push directly against the spastic muscle. That makes it
•Do not massage spastic muscles. Rubbing or massaging spastic muscles usually makes them tighter.
•To manage spastic muscles, find a position that helps the body relax.
Rolling or twisting gently from side to side can help. Sometimes, moving a different part of the body will help ease the spastic muscles. You can also use warm cloths (wet or dry) to help relax spastic muscles.
If you use a wheeled cart, crutches, or wheelchair
If you use a wheeled cart, crutches, or wheelchair, you may start to have trouble with your shoulders or wrists because of using
your arms so much. Your arms and shoulders can hurt and wear out more easily. To help prevent this, stretch your arms and shoulders often. For example:
Women who use wheelchairs often have strong arms. But it is important to keep all the muscles in the arms and shoulder strong, not just the muscles you use to push your chair.
To prevent overusing your arms and shoulders, try not to do the same thing for a long period of time. For example, change or alternate how you pick things up. First use your left hand, then the right.A good way to strengthen the other muscles in your shoulders is to push your wheelchair backward.
Injuries from overuse
Joints are places in the body where bones come together. At these joints, tendons connect the muscle to bones. If you repeat the same movement over and over again, such as pushing your wheelchair or cart, or walking with crutches, the tendons in your wrists can be damaged.You will feel pain in your hand, or here, when your wrist is gently tapped.
Treatment:• Rest: Rest your wrists and hands in a comfortable position as much as possible.
If you must continue to move or push yourself around, wear a splint to keep your hands and wrists as still as possible.
Splint: To make a soft splint, wrap your wrist and lower arm with cloths so the joint does not move. Wrapping the cloth around a thin piece of wood first can help keep the joint straight. The cloths should be wrapped tightly enough to keep your wrist from moving, but not so tightly that the blood ow is blocked or the area gets numb. If you can, wear the splint while you are moving around, and also while you rest or sleep.
• Water: Fill one bowl with warm water, and one bowl with cold water. Place your hands and wrists in the cold water for one minute, and then in the warm water for 4 minutes. Do this 5 times, ending with the warm water, at least 2 times a day (more often if you can). The warm water bowl should always be the last one your hands go into.
• Exercise: After each water treatment, exercise your hands and wrists. This will help prevent more damage to the tendons. Count to 5 as you hold your hands in each of these positions. If you feel pain in any of these positions, try to change the position a little to make it more comfortable. Repeat these movements 10 times.
• Medicine: If your hands or wrists are painful or swollen, take aspirin or another pain medicine that reduces inammation .
• Operation: After 6 months, if the pain is constant, if you feel weaker, or if you lose feeling or notice tingling in your hands, get medical help. You may need to have medicine carefully injected into the wrist, or you may need an operation.
•If you can, try to push or move yourself in a way that bends your hands and wrists less and puts less pressure on them.
•If possible, ask someone else to push your wheelchair or cart from time to time, to give your hands and wrists a rest.
•Try to exercise your hands and wrists every hour, by moving them through all of the motions they can make. This will stretch and strengthen the tendons and muscles. If exercise causes pain, move slowly and gently.
If your hands and wrists are red or hot, they might be infected. See a health worker right away.
If you want to use crutches, make sure they t properly. When you use crutches, most of your body weight will be felt in your hands. So follow the advice on page 93 to prevent damage to your hands.
If possible, always use elbow crutches to prevent possible damage to the nerves in your armpits. But if you prefer or can get only tall crutches, make sure they do not press up into your armpits. Your elbows should be slightly bent, and there should be 3 ngers of space between the crutch and your armpit. If tall crutches press up under your armpit, in time the pressure on the nerves there can cause paralysis of the hands.
An arm or a leg that has been bent for a long time can get locked into one position (a contracture). Some of the muscles
become shorter and the arm or leg cannot fully straighten. Or short muscles may hold a joint straight so that it cannot bend.
Sometimes contractures cause pain.If you have had contractures for many years, gentle movement and stretching can prevent the joint from getting worse. It will be difcult to straighten the joints and muscles all the way. But gentle exercises can make your joints a little less stiff and keep your muscles strong.
To prevent contractures and keep your muscles strong, try to exercise your arms and legs every day. If necessary, find someone who can help you move different parts of your body.