Spinal cord injury
Injury (SCI) is damage to the spinal cord that
results in a loss of function such as mobility or
A diagnosis of spinal cord injury can be
Accidents - motor vehicle accidents, falls and
sports injuries - and acts of violence cause most
injuries to the spinal cord. The injury interferes
with your brain's ability to communicate through
your nervous system with other parts of your body.
If you recently experienced a spinal cord injury, it might seem like
every aspect of life just became a lot more complicated. After all,
adapting to life with a disability often in a wheelchair is no easy
You'll likely experience many thoughts and emotions after injury. And
you'll likely have concerns about how your injury will affect your
lifestyle, your financial situation and your personal relationships.
Grieving and emotional stress are normal and common. However, if your
grief and sadness are affecting your personal care, causing you to
isolate yourself from others, or prompting you to abuse alcohol or other
drugs, it's time to seek help. People with a spinal cord injury abuse
alcohol at about twice the rate that the general population does.
Depression also is common.
Other complications of a spinal cord injury may include:
A spinal cord injury that affects nerves that run to the bladder can
cause urinary incontinence the inability to control the release of
urine from your bladder. Loss of bladder control increases your risk
of urinary tract infections. It may also cause kidney infection and
kidney or bladder stones. Drinking plenty of clear fluids and using
a catheter a thin, soft tube that you insert into your urethra and
bladder to drain your urine several times a day may help.
After a spinal cord injury, voluntary control of the bowels may be
lost or impaired. This can make it difficult for stool to move
through your intestines, or it can result in fecal incontinence
the inability to control your bowel movements. Eating a high-fiber
diet can help regulate your bowels. Medications and other products
are also available to manage waste elimination.
Sitting or lying in the same position for a long period of time can
cause pressure sores, which are also called decubitus ulcers or
bedsores. People with a spinal cord injury are particularly
susceptible to pressure sores because the injury reduces or
eliminates sensations, making it difficult to know when a sore is
developing. Changing positions frequently with help, if needed
is the best way to prevent these sores.
thrombosis and pulmonary embolism.
Sitting for long periods of time can also decrease blood flow
through the veins and cause blood clots to form. These blood clots
can develop in a vein deep within a muscle (deep vein thrombosis),
and they can lead to a blocked pulmonary artery in the lungs
(pulmonary embolism). Large clots that block blood flow can be
fatal, so people with spinal cord injury may need devices or
medications to try to prevent clotting.
It's more difficult to breathe and cough with weakened abdominal and
chest muscles, so people with cervical and thoracic spinal cord
injury may develop pneumonia, asthma or other lung problems.
Medications and therapy can treat these problems. In some instances,
people with spinal cord injury may also need a yearly flu shot or
Spinal cord injury above the middle of the chest may cause a
condition called autonomic dysreflexia. This dangerous condition
occurs when an irritation or pain below the level of the injury and
the irritated area sends a signal that fails to reach the brain,
producing a reflex action that can constrict blood vessels. The
result is a rise in blood pressure and a drop in heart rate that can
result in stroke or seizure. Changing positions or eliminating the
cause of the irritation which can be something as simple as a full
bladder or tight clothes can help.
Some people with spinal cord injury develop muscle spasms and
jumping of their arms and legs. Unfortunately, this doesn't mean
that they're recovering. These exaggerated reflexes occur because
some of the nerves in the lower spinal cord become more sensitive
after injury and cause muscle contractions. However, because of the
spinal cord injury, the brain can no longer send signals to the
lower nerves to regulate the contractions. Medical treatments may be
needed if spasms become severe.
After a spinal cord injury, weight loss and muscle atrophy are
common. But the change in lifestyle and activities may eventually
cause weight gain, which can make it difficult for you to lift
yourself or be lifted from place to place and put you at risk of
heart disease and other problems. It's a good idea to develop an
exercise and diet plan with assistance from a dietitian and
Many men with a spinal cord injury still have erections, even men
with little sensation in the genital area. But the erections may not
be firm enough or last long enough for sexual activity. Fertility
also can be affected. Ninety percent of men with a spinal cord
injury aren't able to ejaculate during intercourse. However, this
doesn't mean that men with a spinal cord injury can't be sexually
active or father a child. Doctors, urologists and fertility
specialists who specialize in spinal cord injury can offer options
for better sexual functioning and fertility. Women with a spinal
cord injury also may benefit from seeing a doctor about changes in
their sexuality and fertility. There's usually no physical change in
women with a spinal cord injury that inhibits sexual intercourse or
pregnancy. But women may lose the ability to produce vaginal
lubrication or have orgasms, and any pregnancy will likely be
considered high risk. It's important to talk with a doctor before
You may experience pain as a result of damage to your spinal cord or
other parts of your body during your accident. It's even possible to
feel pain in areas of your body where there's little or no
sensation. People with lower spinal cord injuries and those who were
injured by gunshot tend to experience more pain than others do.
Anyone with a spinal cord injury can also experience pain from
overusing muscles in one part of the body. Many people
develop shoulder tendinitis from manually operating a wheelchair for
a long period of time. Any kind of pain can have a negative impact
on daily living. Medications and modified activities can help manage
People with a spinal cord injury are susceptible to injury of any
part of the body that has impaired sensation. Someone with a spinal
cord injury may even receive a burn or cut without realizing it.
Take steps to prevent new injuries and to inspect your body for any
cuts or sores that need medical attention.
Spinal cord injury
(SCI) > 1 > 2 >
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