The first and most important exercise tip for the person who has just been diagnosed with a Chiari Malformation is to keep on walking. Walk right out of that doctor’s office, while remaining calm and relaxed. There is a possibility that you will never experience the symptoms associated with the condition. But then, you might be one of the unlucky Chiarians who has lived a life with headaches caused by their cramped brain pushing through their lower skull and into their spinal column. Whether you currently have symptoms or not, after getting your doctor’s okay, remember to keep on walking—or running, or dancing, just continue to exercise. Strong scientific evidence shows that physical activity has a therapeutic effect on people with all sorts of health challenges, including those people with Chiari Malformation. The type of exercise recommended will depend on the stage and symptoms of the Chiari patient.
Let’s Get Started:
- Make sure your health-care providers approve of any physical activities you are currently doing. If you are starting a new exercise program, talk with your medical team to determine what physical activity would be best for you.
- If your fitness level is low, start slowly with shorter sessions (five to ten minutes).
- Take frequent breaks during activity if needed.
- Choose exercises that don’t put stress on your neck such as walking, cycling or water exercises. These are low-impact activities, which involve large muscle groups and can be done continuously.
- Wear cushioned, support tennis shoes to reduce neck and cerebellum pounding. Before purchasing your shoes, look into which shoes are specially made for walking and running. Test the shoes in the store before buying them.
- Avoid sports and activities that strain your neck such as football, soccer, basketball, or tennis.
- Be careful of any physical activity that puts you in jeopardy of falling and creating trauma of any type.
- Avoid lifting more than 15 pounds when strength training or backpacking. Heavy lifting is generally not recommended, especially if you have an associated syrinx.
- Listen to your body. Stop exercising if the activity exacerbates symptoms like increasing headache pain, nausea or dizziness.
- Focus while exercising. Many Chiari patients have problems with balance and coordination. On days these symptoms seem worse, avoid crowded gyms and health clubs.
- If you are experiencing some numbness in your hands and feet, choose a sitting exercise such as riding an exercise bike.
- On some days you will not need a list of do’s and don’ts when choosing your exercises. Headache pressure can increase with simple acts like bending over or stretching overhead. This can happen when the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) becomes restricted or blocked.
- On the days when your symptoms are worse, allow yourself to take the day off from exercise, without guilt. Sometimes complete rest will be just what the doctor ordered!
What is Chiari Malformation?
Chiari Malformation is a serious neurological disorder in which the lower part of the brain, the cerebellum, descends out of the skull and into the spinal column, putting pressure on both the brain and spine. This crowding of the brain and spinal cord produces a “cork” effect which disrupts the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This condition can cause extreme headaches, neck pain, weakness, balance problems, numbness in limbs, visual disturbances, respiratory problems, trouble swallowing and speaking, and a host of other problems. Decompression surgery would be necessary if symptoms progress to the point of imminent nerve damage and paralysis.
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