Brain & Nervous System Health Center

Living With a Spinal Cord Injury - Life With a Spinal Cord Injury

Grieving

Grief is one of the many challenges of adjusting to life after a spinal cord injury. It's your reaction to loss, and it affects you both emotionally and physically. But letting your emotions control you can result in unhealthy decisions and behavior, a longer rehab, and taking longer to adjust to your spinal cord injury (SCI). Feeling and naming your emotions, and talking to others about them, will help you feel more solid and in control.

Talking to a professional counselor who understands the challenges of living with an SCI can be very helpful during tough times.

For more information on the grieving process, see the topic Grief and Grieving.

Chronic pain

Pain in an SCI can be complicated and confusing. You may feel pain where you have feeling. But you may also feel pain in an area where otherwise you have no feeling. The pain may be severe at some times. But at other times it may disappear or bother you only a little.

The most common type of pain is neuropathic pain, caused by damage to the nervous system. Other types of pain include musculoskeletal pain (in the bones, muscles, and joints), and visceral pain (in the abdomen).

Don't ignore your pain. Talk to your doctor about it. He or she can help figure out the type of pain and how to manage it. Also, pain can signal a more serious problem.

The best treatment depends on the type of pain. But you will probably need to:

For more information on managing pain, see the topic Chronic Pain.

Strength and flexibility

Movement is what keeps your muscles strong and your joints flexible. So if you cannot move your muscles and joints easily, you may lose strength and some of your range of motion. This will make it harder to perform daily activities, such as getting dressed or moving between your wheelchair and other locations. With exercise, you can keep or improve your flexibility and reduce muscle spasticity. Exercise can also help prevent heart problems, diabetes, pressure sores, pneumonia, high blood pressure, urinary tract infections, and weight problems.

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What exercises you can do will depend on what part of your spinal cord was injured. You may be able to do:

  • Flexibility exercises on your own or with help.
  • Strength exercises with free weights or weight machines.

Taking part in sports is an excellent way to exercise. And there are often leagues or groups to promote wheelchair basketball and racing and other activities. Staying active provides both physical and emotional benefits.

Note: Exercise may trigger autonomic dysreflexia, which can cause sudden very high blood pressure and headaches. If not treated promptly and correctly, it may lead to seizures, stroke, and even death. These complications are rare, but it is important to know the symptoms and watch for them.

Nutrition

Eating a healthy diet can help you reduce your risk of some complications and can make other tasks, such as bowel management, easier. And it can help you reach and stay at a healthy weight. Being either underweight or overweight increases your risk of pressure sores.

If you have special nutritional needs, such as needing extra protein or fiber, a registered dietitian can help you plan a diet.

For more information on a healthy diet and weight, see:

Mobility

Mobility is an important aspect of a spinal cord injury. Mobility devices, such as crutches, walkers, wheelchairs, and scooters, can help you be more independent. They may allow you to work, shop, travel, or take part in sports.

Moving from a wheelchair to another location is known as a transfer. Your injury and strength will determine what type of transfer you can do. You may be able to do it yourself, or you may need help. There are some important things to know for safe transfers, such as to lock your wheelchair and make the distance between the transfer surfaces as small as possible.

Adapting your home

As your rehab ends, you and your loved ones need to start thinking about what you need to do when you are at home. Because you may have to use a wheelchair (lowering your height) and have limited movement and feeling, you may have to adapt your home.

Considerations for adapting your home include ramps and widened doorways, special utensils for eating, and special devices for dressing and grooming.

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Thinking of the future

Today, with improved medical care and support, the outlook for people with SCIs is better than ever. In many cases, 1 year after the injury, life expectancy is close to that of a person without an SCI.2

If you are planning to work, you have the same legal rights as before your injury. People with spinal cord injuries who want to work are legally protected from discrimination by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Plan ahead for possible serious and life-threatening complications. You, your family, and your doctor should discuss what types of medical treatment you want if you have a sudden, life-threatening problem. You may want to create an advance directive to state your wishes if you become unable to communicate.

For more information, see:

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.© 1995-2015 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

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