Exercising with Sensory Processing

by Valerie Cagle
(New Roads, LA, USA)

The result of my daughter's being diagnosed with sensory integration disorder was that a multitude of 'quirky' behaviors of my own were finally explained. From my penchant for watching the same movie hundreds of times in a row, to my tendency to hold onto a piece of clothing until it was disintegrating because it 'felt right', from my inability to snap, whistle, etc--even to this day--to my love of food that others complain is bland and tasteless--I too have sensory integration disorder!


I'm a physician myself, in an anesthesiology residency, so I found this fascinating from numerous standpoints, including the medical/genetic one.

But what I have been thinking about lately is how hard it is for me to exercise. I have terrible muscle memory, if I go for a while without running it's like I'm starting from scratch again, and my running regimen, modest as it is --two miles every day or every other day--is overwhelming and difficult. It is SO DIFFICULT to not stop and walk in the midst of the two mile run--and the 'run' is actually a very slow jog. A twelve minute mile feels comfortable, if I run an eleven minute mile I feel like I'm going to die.

While I'm running, my limbs often feel rubbery and weak, my legs like jello, and this hasn't changed since I picked up running four years ago. People say running gets easier over time but I have not found that to be the case for me, for a person with sensory integration disorder. Running is still very very hard.

It's not just the low muscle tone and rubbery, jello-ey feel of my limbs, it's not just the that the exertion always feels unnatural and terrible, never enjoyable, it's also all the discomforts that come along with the sport--like when I sweat, the upper part of my arm sticks to the lower part of my forearm, and it feels just ghastly, I'm always aware of it, and sometimes I try to run with my arms hanging down straight so that I don't have to feel this sticky bit of friction in my joint crevasses. This is just one example.

I find it hard to focus on enjoying the exertion, because I am so focused on all the sensory input that I am experiencing at any given moment while running, and most of it I do not like--I am tolerating it for the benefit of the exercise.

Anyone have similar experiences, or have found any exercises that work well with sensory integration disorder?

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Oct 15, 2013
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Pilates and SPD
by: Sonia Chambers

Hi I am a pilates instructor who has a niece just diagnosed with SPD and suspect I might have a similar thing. I found pilates/yoga 10 years ago and could not understand why I loved it so much, just that I did I found it very calming and it really help with my balance. Try it out and if you wish to talk more you can find me at www.sonialouisepilates.com.au

Sep 21, 2012
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Pilates and swimming
by: Lilly

You are exactly right. I have many skin sensitivities. I find myself flicking away invisible things, around eyes, ankles, and especially the back of the bra strap itches like crazy. I can't stand tags, even inside jeans. I feel fuzz balls inside my socks. Finally found Natural concepts Oatmeal soap in a bottle that takes away every itch after being outside. I do love to garden( with gloves only) jump if I touch a bug. Noise makes me edgey. I have to escape it. Wool and even some Microfibre and nylon feels snaggy on my skin, even though I am soft as a baby's bottom .

Running has always been painful in the side and makes my legs feel like rubber. Too much shock to the knees and ankles too. I feel every step. When I found pilates, I bought some one inch puzzle mats and cleared space in the living room. Wow, it felt good. Hot tubbing and swimming (floating) is my favorite. Sauna's used to be too intense, until I slowly added more time each time until I could tolerate more. Now I can stay out in the heat on summer days and work in the sun without burning if I keep moving. I used to get SUN itch. Yes, I do have food sensitivities. Eggs and tomatoes. make my stomache ill and give me exzema. I also have been recently diagnosed with multinodular goiter, bipolar and tennis elbow. Fun in the sun. I keep going, enjoy nature, flowers and learned to use vermiculite instead of rocks. We all have adjustments to make and I sincerely hope for everyone reading this to find motivation to find thier own ways to manage thier conditions. My skin is now clear, hair shinier, I'm happier thanks to pilates, swimming and when I was younger bike riding. Now the seat hurts my bum. I'll have to buy one of those extra padded ones. My stairway is too narrow to carry a laundry basket down without scraping your arms on the walls, so I toss a pillow case full down, and drag it with one hand. Nothing is impossible.

Jul 20, 2012
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exercise ideas
by: Theresa, OT

Hi Valerie,It sounds like you'd benefit from adding exercises to strengthen your core muscles. Core muscles are those deep muscles in your trunk and around your shoulders, hips, and neck. Pilates is a great choice, as would be an exercise class. Think about things like sit-ups, reverse sit-ups (for your back muscles), push-ups (girlie ones are fine), side planks, etc. This will help your body feel more connected and less rubbery. Core building exercises also give proprioceptive input which is calming to the whole nervous system. Consider dietary issues to address fatigue and listlessness. Dianne Craft has great information on this. Also, Dr. Mercola. Good luck!

Apr 18, 2012
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Exercise ideas
by: Anonymous

Hi, I was told by my daughter's OT that exercise was the key to moderating my daughter's SPD. With her it appears cycling is the best thing for her. She also has poor muscle tone but has found that the thrill of moving fast for little effort is very rewarding. I can't get her to run but loves scootering, cycling and even more so horse riding. As far as for myself I find I can chase a ball in team sport to excess, but I can't run and hate running. I always love swimming, hate the thought of getting into the water but feel like something soft against the skin once I'm in.

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