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Wheelchair Hockey and Other Adaptive Sports Score Big Health Benefits for People With SMA

Posted on December 29, 2021
Article written by
Megan Cawley

  • A new study highlights the benefits of adaptive sports to improve the physical and psychological well-being of people affected by neuromuscular diseases like spinal muscular atrophy (SMA).
  • Adaptive sports modify athletic activities to allow athletes with disabilities to participate.
  • There are many resources across the United States for those seeking adaptive sports programs.

The world of athletic recreation is becoming increasingly accessible for people living with disabilities, such as SMA, through adaptive sports programs. These activities have proven benefits for participants, including better physical and mental well-being.

A study, recently published in PM&R, highlighted these benefits: Researchers found that individuals living with neuromuscular diseases who played wheelchair hockey exhibited higher quality-of-life scores, higher perceived physical ability, and better physical self-efficacy compared with those who did not participate.

“This study identified a significant association between participation in wheelchair hockey and improved physical and psychological well-being of people affected by neuromuscular diseases,” the authors concluded.

What Are Adaptive Sports?

Radford University defines adaptive sports as “any sport, recreational physical activity, or Olympic event in which the objectives and rules have been tailored to meet the needs of disabled athletes.”

Modifications may include changing the rules of the activity, including allowing for assistive devices and/or participation of caretakers or assistants.

Read about Daniel Michel, an athlete with type 2 SMA who won a bronze medal in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.

How Adaptive Sports Change Lives

Adaptive sports programs open up valuable recreational opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Moreover, they can have profound impacts on people’s social skills, self-confidence, life quality, and overall well-being.

Take Ben Lou, a Poway, California teen diagnosed with SMA at age 1. While SMA affects every facet of Lou’s life, including eating lunch and getting around, it hasn’t stopped him from getting outside and staying active.

Cure SMA and Ionis Pharmaceuticals — the manufacturer of Spinraza (nusinersen) — helped Lou realize his dream of being a surfer through their adaptive surfing program Surf Away SMA with Ricochet. With the help of an adaptive board and the program’s aides, Lou was able to fulfill his dream of riding the waves — along with Surf Dog Ricochet.

Lou also was able to go skiing in the winter through the help of the United States Adaptive Recreation Center (USARC). “The concept of skiing seemed totally out of the question for someone with my weakness,” Lou told the Special Needs Resource Foundation of San Diego, “but there I was, reveling at the mountain of snow, nervously and giddily looking down from the lift, and soaring down the slopes. It was a surreal experience.”

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Can Adaptive Sports Physically Benefit Those With SMA?

Not only do adaptive sports create opportunities for people to participate in recreational activities while improving their self-confidence; they can also work to combat the negative physical effects that result from diseases like SMA.

Because SMA causes progressive muscle wasting, it’s beneficial for those with the disease to get regular exercise. This can help in a number of ways, including maintaining muscle strength, preserving range of motion, and improving respiratory function.

Types of Adaptive Sports and How To Find Them

A wide range of sports have been modified and adapted for those with disabilities, including baseball, basketball, soccer, bowling, martial arts, kayaking, and rock climbing.

There are many resources available for finding adaptive sports, including:

  • Move United, which features a wide list of the adaptive sports they offer, as well as a facility locator tool
  • The American Association of Adapted Sports Programs, which offers resources including educational workshops and funding for adaptive sports programs across the country
  • The Adaptive Sports Center in Colorado, which offers seasonal programs, camps, and scholarships
  • The Challenged Athletes Foundation, which serves athletes with all physical and intellectual disabilities
  • The USARC, which hosts adaptive programs and events and raises funds for adaptive sports across the United States

Other resources include Adapted Sports Connection and American Association of Adapted Sports Programs.

Megan Cawley is a writer at MyHealthTeams. She has written previously on health news and topics, including new preventative treatment programs. Learn more about her here.

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