September was Spinal Cord Injury Awareness, and our friend (and Inspiring Person) Aika Yoshida shared some wonderful tips with her Instagram audience all month long. As she noted, “every spinal cord injury (SCI) is very unique, and some injuries are more obvious than others,” but her advice will hopefully provide some useful insights and tips for anyone who has suffered such an injury (or knows someone else who has). Maybe you’ll even be inspired to take up a new sport of your own?

#1 Dealing with Changing Temperatures

After 6yrs post SCI, I’m MUCH better, but temperature regulations can still be challenging. My body recognizes when it’s hot and cold now, but I don’t sweat much, so I can overheat easily. In wintertime, my toes turn black & blue, but I don’t always know that my body is cold. I enjoyed ice climbing the first year after the injury and never felt coldness but ended up with frost nip on my toes. Here are some tips that have helped me:

  • Rely on weather apps
  • Wear a hat & sun hoodie in summer when outside to prevent from overheating
  • Wear wool socks & down booties in winter

People often know about my leg issues because I wear a carbon fiber leg brace from Allard USA. But many people are surprised to find that I face some challenges with my arm too! Naturally, my right hand likes to stay closed, so I wake up every morning with a tight fist. This can be quite a useful problem to have as a climber, as my husband Rob calls it, “A’s secret weapon, the claw!”

#2 Problems with Gripping

But opening my hand and using my thumb can be quite challenging & requires more effort. If I’m fatigued or stressed, this can even be worse. For example, I relearned to use chopsticks, but I still can’t hold a glass of water or water bottle with right hand because this requires an open hand while pinching with a thumb. So you can imagine that opening jars/cans/bottles and holding thick objects can be challenging. As a paraclimber, my right hand loves crimper & pocket holds. But pinches & slopers are not my best friend when I can’t rely on my thumb and have difficulty with open hand grips. Here’s what I’ve found to help:

  1. Hold things between my fingertips & palm without use of my thumb,
  2. Use my thighs to hold object & use stronger hand to open bottles or jars,
  3. Use a tool & Dysem (non-slip mat) to increase the grip,
  4. Be creative & open minded when climbing
  5. Use trekking poles with a strap that assist the grip when hiking and climbing

#3 Compensating for “Clonus” in My Extremities

Have you heard of “clonus”? This is an involuntary neurological muscle contraction that is uncontrollable & has a rhythmic movement like a sewing machine. When the ball of my foot (mostly right one) gets pushed against something quickly, it triggers clonus. This can also happen to my wrists. Since this happens involuntary, I can’t control it, and I feel like my extremities are out of control.

So what do I do about this? Not much I can do other than to avoid those situations. Here’s how I deal with avoiding clonus:

  • Get lowered slowly on the wall and use only one foot to kick off the wall.
  • Don’t take crazy lead falls
  • Place my feet slower on a step or holds
  • Jump to a bar or use my arms for assistant when practice jumping, so landing is less of the issues
  • Change my body position or wait it out to until my foot calms down

#4 Choosing the Right AFO Brace

Meet my special buddies, ToeOFF® XS, ToeOFF® S & Ypsilon® by Allard. These are called Ankle Foot Orthosis (AFO) and these guys go wherever I go, but I get to choose who my special company is going to be depending on the occasion.

  • ToeOFF X-SMALL: She gets to hang out with me the most. I take her to work, grocery stores, and just for most day to day
  • ToeOFF SMALL: She mostly comes on fun adventures along with my exercise sessions. These include all climbing adventures, hiking on the trail, going for a walk, and workouts. She provides me a little more support & power than X-SMALL, so she’s traveled around the world with me
  • Ypsilon SMALL: She’s a little shy and stays home a little more often than the other two. I take her when I need to walk less but also have to sit for a while. For example, if I’m in a meeting or go out to restaurants. Because she’s unique with her design, I can also wear her with some boots.

What I love about these braces: 1) They provide freedom & allow me to stay active — I can be me! 2) They improve my gait quality, walking endurance & speed. This improves my self-confidence too. 3) They are light & low profile. 4) They allow me to use my weak leg muscles.

5) Dealing with Pain

Living life with an SCI, I can’t escape from physical & emotional pains which may be one of the biggest #invisibledisability challenges I face. However, I can still choose how I live my life. Unfortunately, there are days that my pain takes over my life. And every year, my pain seems to worsen & somehow new symptoms still show up after 6 years post injury. Until there’s a cure for SCI, I hope to face my pain with grace, kindness & curiosity instead of stress & anxiety which lead to suffering. I don’t have a magic answer, but something that helps me face my daily physical & emotional pain:

  • Find an activity that I can focus on (climbing for me)
  • Spend time in nature
  • Hang out with friends who I can laugh & cry with
  • Mindfulness practice including meditation, gentle yoga & Natural Movement Fitness
  • Go get a massage
  • Just lay down & take a break from gravity
  • Focus on anti-inflammatory diet
  • Ask for help.
  • Do something for others and help others in need.
  • Give yourself permission to take medications & seek medical help when needed

Thanks so much to Aika for offering all these wonderful insights and inspiration. Make sure you follow her on Instagram @Aika.Yoshida and keep an eye on her amazing para-climbing career!