Living with a Spinal Cord Injury

Adjusting to the effects of a spinal cord injury is difficult; in addition to the physical limitations and challenge of learning how to compensate for abilities that have permanently changed, there’s also an emotional and psychological impact from losing independence, having to rely on others for activities of daily living, and suffering from chronic conditions.

Some of the complications a SCI survivor may experience include loss of control over bladder and/or bowels, pressure sores (bed sores), breathing problems, spastic muscles, autonomic dysreflexia, and being unaware of new injuries due to a lack of sensation in a body part. Although these complications may be difficult to manage, they are not insurmountable.

Bladder Control

A person who has a spinal-cord injury may benefit from using a catheter at regular intervals to empty their bladder; intermittent catheterization is less likely to lead to an infection versus leaving the catheter in around-the-clock.

Bowel Function

A spinal cord injury can cause either a lack of bowel control or constipation; a high fiber diet and medications can help to manage bowel function. Also, a rehabilitation specialist can help the injured person learn new ways to regulate bowel movements.

Pressure Sores (Bed Sores)

A person having a spinal-cord injury may routinely sit or lie in the same position for extended periods of time; as a result, the skin on the body parts that are being rested on, may break-down and lead to pressure sores. Since there may be little or no sensation in the affected area, the injured person may not realize that there is a problem. Pressure sores can become a grave health-concern if they are infected and/or un-treated, but sores can be prevented by regularly changing position.

Spastic Muscles

A person living with a spinal-cord injury may experience muscles spasms which cause their limbs to twitch or “jump”; this is relatively rare and unfortunately it is not an indication that the person is regaining sensation or movement in those areas. These involuntary movements occur because some of your nerves have become more sensitive, yet your damaged spinal cord will not allow the brain to interpret and regulate their signals.

Respiratory Problems

If a spinal-cord injury causes paralysis in the diaphragm muscles (chest muscles for breathing), the injured person may be placed on a ventilator. Even if their breathing is not directly impaired, SCI survivors are still at greater risk of pneumonia and may be given respiratory exercises and medications to help prevent lung infections and improve lung function.

Blood Clots

With a spinal cord injury, being immobile for long periods of time slows blood circulation and can cause clots to form. Blood-thinning medications, leg pumps, and special stockings, can help improve circulation and prevent fluid build up.

Related Injuries

A person with a damaged spinal cord may not be able to feel pain or other stimuli on some areas of their body; this means they could experience other injuries (e.g., severe burns or cuts) without realizing it.


Sometimes, a person with a spinal-cord injury is able to feel pain within areas of their body that cannot feel exterior sensations. The pain may likely be a result of the initial injury and a physician may prescribe medication for relief.