PT on the Net Research

Client with One Arm


I just signed up a new member at my facility. This female was born with one arm. She has learned to do everything, but she admits the muscles on that side of her upper body aren't strong or used often. I would like to offer her a complete program but am wondering about the balance between both sides of the body if I would include unilateral upper body exercises.


We admire your question and hope to help. Although this is not our expertise, we will attempt to facilitate your program. With any abnormality, be it congenital or acquired, our goal is always to enhance the client's function. We define function as an outcome. In other words, what stimuli must we apply to enhance our client's goals, wants and needs? This exact question is where you should start. What exactly is your client looking for? Based on the fact that she was born with one arm and therefore the body has adapted, your programming should be no different than if she had two arms EXCEPT modify all exercises to unilateral. The good news is our Exercise & Flexibility Library is full of exercises that are not machine dependant and therefore can be performed uni-laterally. For example: One arm dumbbell chest press on a ball, which facilitates the entire body or a standing split stance push with rotation (the opposite side can still rotate and weight shift through the legs without adding in the push).

In conclusion, ensure your client's needs follow all medical advice and design a program that enhances her function, applying the fact that she has a genetic defect.