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Chiari Malformation: Fitness Tips & Exercises

By AGE2B team
January 31, 2022

Chiari Malformation is a neurological disorder where the cerebellum descends out of the skull and goes into the spinal column. This puts pressure on both the spine and the brain that causes a “cork” effect which disrupts the regular flow of CSF or cerebrospinal fluid.

Chiari Malformation can cause severe headaches, neck pain, balancing problems, limb numbness, weakness, occipital and respiratory problems.

The most important rule of exercise for Chiari Malformation fitness is to keep walking! This is the very best exercise instruction we can offer.

Other important tips to keep in mind for Chiari Malformation fitness include:

  • Make sure you have the approval of your doctor or health-care professional for any Chiari Malformation exercise you are involved in. If you are just beginning a new program, talk to your team of medical providers to determine what activities would be best suited for you.
  • If your current level of fitness is not very high, begin slowly with short Chiari Malformation fitness sessions. They may last only five to ten minutes to start with.
  • Take breaks often during your Chiari Malformation fitness sessions if you need to.
  • Choose a Chiari Malformation exercise that doesn’t add stress to your neck. Good activities to try include water activities, walking or cycling. These activities are low-impact and work for your large muscle groups. They can be performed continuously.
  • Wear supportive and well- cushioned tennis shoes for Chiari Malformation fitness activities. This will reduce cerebellum pounding and neck stress.  Before purchasing shoes, always try them on. You may want to consider shoes made specifically for running and walking.
  • Avoid activities and sports that can stress and strain your neck like tennis, soccer, basketball, or football.
  • When doing Chiari Malformation exercises avoid anything that puts you at risk for falls or any kind of trauma.
  • Avoid lifting a weight of more than 15 pounds when backpacking or strength training, especially if you have a syrinx. Heavy lifting is usually contraindicated in this case.
  • Listen to your body when you are performing Chiari Malformation fitness activities. Stop any activity that causes nausea, dizziness, and increased a headache or pain.
  • Many Chiari Malformation patients have trouble with their coordination and balance. On days when your symptoms are worse, practice your Chiari Malformation fitness program at home and avoid a crowded health club or gym. Try to really focus on your routine.
  • If you are having numbness or decreased sensation in your feet and hands, it’s safer to choose an exercise that you can do sitting down, like riding an exercise bicycle.
  • Sometimes the cerebrospinal fluid can be restricted and headache pressure will be worse when you bend and stretch. You may have to alter your Chiari Malformation fitness program on these days. Make a list of exercises that don’t increase headache pain that you can do any day.
  • When your symptoms are severe, take the day off from your Chiari Malformation fitness program without feeling guilty. Rest may be just what your body needs!

General Exercise

Before beginning any Chiari Malformation exercise, check with your physical therapist or doctor and get their approval. Avoid any activities that stress or strain the neck. Walking is a great place to start. Be sure to choose shoes that support your feet and are well-cushioned. This will help decrease cerebellum and neck pounding while you’re walking. Chiari Malformation exercises can also be done in the water and cycling is also beneficial.

Brandt-Daroff Exercises

Balance can be challenging for people who are starting a Chiari Malformation exercise, so a program known as Brandt-Daroff may be helpful.

  • Sit on the edge of your bed, near the middle, with your legs hanging down over the side.
  • Lie down on your right side
  • Turn your head 45-degrees, so you are now looking up at the ceiling.
  • Hold this position until any symptoms of dizziness pass.
  • Sit up and look directly ahead for a count of 30.
  • Repeat, lying down on your left side.

If you feel like you might fall, ask someone to stand nearby while you’re doing this Chiari Malformation fitness exercise.

Cervical Exercises

Some physicians suggest doing Chiari Malformation fitness exercises in the shower to relieve headaches. Before beginning any exercises, check with your doctor to determine if it is safe for you to do them. Simply standing in the shower and letting the water pulse over your shoulders and the back of your neck may help a headache. Then as part of a Chiari Malformation fitness exercise, gently and slowly turn your head, as if to look behind you. Be careful not to turn your head too far and don’t overstretch the muscles. Don’t bend your neck or head down.

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