Mobility After a Spinal Cord Injury - Topic Overview
Mobility is an important aspect of a
spinal cord injury (SCI). The ability to move lets you
participate more fully in community life and do the things you would like to
do. You are not "confined" to crutches or wheelchairs—they make you
independent. Mobility devices can help you get to work, go shopping, and get
around outside your home. They may allow you to participate in races,
basketball, tennis, and other sports. You can often get around as quickly as
anyone else can walking.
Most people with an SCI use a wheelchair at some point. Even if you
can get around with crutches, there will probably be times when you need a
wheelchair. The two main types of wheelchairs are:
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Manual wheelchairs. You move a manual wheelchair
yourself, and to do so, you need upper body strength. Manual wheelchairs with
special designs are often used in sports, such as basketball, tennis, and
Power wheelchairs. Power wheelchairs contain a motor,
control system, and battery pack that you need to recharge. They are used by
people with less upper body strength. They come in different models and are
getting more diverse. For example, you can now buy off-road, four-wheel-drive
You select a wheelchair based on how much movement and feeling you
have (your functional level of injury), how much you are able to do, how strong
your upper body is, where and how the wheelchair will be used, and its cost.
Questions you can ask are:
How much upper body strength do I have? Am I
strong enough to use a manual wheelchair?
Where will the wheelchair
be used? Indoors only? Or indoors and outdoors?
How often will I
use the wheelchair? Occasionally or all the time?
Is it easy to
travel with? Is it light and easy to take apart?
Will my insurance
pay for all or some of it? How much will I have to spend on my
What guarantees or warranties come with the
Can it be serviced or repaired locally?
Other types of mobility devices include:
Braces, crutches, or walkers. Some people with
SCIs have enough strength to use these devices. There are many types available,
and your rehab team will help you find the best fit.
carts that have three or four wheels. These are usually used by people who
don't need help getting around all the time. Scooters are usually less
expensive than wheelchairs and easier to steer. Scooters and carts can be
self-propelled or motorized.
Just because you have an SCI does not mean you cannot drive. Many
people with SCIs are able to drive with special modifications to their vehicle.
If you feel you can drive, talk to your
occupational therapist or case manager. You will
probably have to go through a program that evaluates your ability to drive
safely. This generally includes an evaluation of your visual and movement
skills, reaction time, and hand function.