BrainLine

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. Please speak with a medical professional before seeking treatment.

Who are adaptive sports for?

People with brain injury, PTSD, or physical injuries, including amputations

I am building confidence through adaptive sports. It has helped me build my self-esteem. I am now motivated and setting goals for my life instead of waiting to see if I am going to wake up tomorrow — I now feel like I have hope for a future.

Adam Greathouse, Veteran, U.S. Army

What are adaptive sports?

Adaptive sports often run parallel to typical sports, such as biking, basketball, and track (Adaptive Sports, 2021). They are adapted for people with disabilities, allowing many more people to participate with increased independence, comfort, and confidence. Sometimes special equipment is needed to make participation possible, such as sit-skis that allow athletes to sit (rather than stand) when they ski. These sports can be purely recreational or highly competitive.

What are adaptive sports like?

Trying out an adaptive sport is a lot like trying out any new sport. You’ll need to learn how to use your body in a different way and to possibly incorporate new equipment. For example:

  • You might learn to play wheelchair basketball after first only being able to gently toss a ball.
  • You might find slow, gentle soccer is fun but tiring, so you explore with your recreational therapist what might be a better fit.
  • You might over time improve your balance enough to be able to kayak without help.

With the help of a physical therapist or an adaptive sports specialist, you’ll figure out how your brain injury or your PTSD affects what sports you can try.

Adaptive sports can take many forms, including but not limited to archery, basketball, cycling, equestrian, fishing, golf, hiking, kayaking, martial arts, water sports, rock climbing, running, sailing, snow sports, strength training, swimming, tennis, wheelchair racing, yoga, etc., and more sports are being adapted for individual needs every year. Each activity may involve some form of modified equipment, rules, or regulations (Adaptive Sports, 2021).

I wanted something back. I felt like I had lost everything. That was the beginning of me realizing that there was more … The recumbent [bike] is the one place where I don’t need any assistance. I don’t need help getting to do it. I’m completely independent, and I’m successful.

Beth King, Veteran, U.S. Army

Why do adaptive sports work?

Physical activity causes the release of endorphins, which create positive feelings in your brain and body. Sports can also help you make progress toward your physical and cognitive rehabilitation goals by challenging your brain and body in new ways. The act of setting and achieving goals boosts confidence, and being part of a team or community encourages socialization instead of isolation. Returning to meaningful interests that are challenging contributes to a sense of purpose and accomplishment. For many people, all of these factors combine to produce a higher level of fitness, a greater sense of well being, and a more positive outlook.

What makes for an effective adaptive sports program?

You’ll be more likely to enjoy yourself and benefit if you find a sport that sparks your interest, and you’ll definitely need a knowledgeable program that provides appropriate education and accommodations. Adaptive sports providers should have training specific to the sport provided, a related degree or certification in sports, disability, physical fitness, or recreation, and/or an adaptive sport speciality certification. Examples might include certified therapeutic recreation specialists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, exercise physiologists, and certified adaptive recreation and sport specialists. Ideally, you’ll find a program that works with people with TBI or PTSD.

What do patients say?

I wanted something back. I felt like I had lost everything. That was the beginning of me realizing that there was more … The recumbent [bike] is the one place where I don’t need any assistance. I don’t need help getting to do it. I’m completely independent, and I’m successful.

— Beth King, Veteran U.S. Army

 

I am building confidence through adaptive sports. It has helped me build my self-esteem. I am now motivated and setting goals for my life instead of waiting to see if I am going to wake up tomorrow - I now feel like I have hope for a future.

— Adam Greathouse, Veteran, U.S. Army

 

I never even dreamed I would be able to do so much post-injury. It gave me the confidence, improved health and the feeling of pride you get when you push yourself to accomplish a goal, and the freedom of moving past the fear to live forward after a life-changing event. I am much more active now than I was before my injury!

— Shepherd Center patient with TBI and SCI

Personal Stories

Video

Where can I find more information?

References

Lundberg, N., Bennett Shauna Smith, J., & Smith, S. (2011). Outcomes of Adaptive Sports and Recreation Participation among Veterans Returning from Combat with Acquired Disability. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, XLV(2), 105–120.

Sheffield, J. (2021, January 11). Running On River Time. Sports N Spokes.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. Please speak with a medical professional before seeking treatment.

 

Reviewed by Kathryn Mitchell, MS, LRT, CTRS, Lyndsay Tkach, MA, CBIS, and Michelle Neary, March 2021.

The BrainLine Treatment Hub was created in consultation with TBI and PTSD experts.