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Important Changes That Can Happen to Your Body Years After a Spinal Cord Injury

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Whether or not you have a spinal cord injury, the body is always in a state of change, and one of the biggest is that we all age. As you age with a spinal cord injury, however, there are several things you should be aware of. While there are several conditions that can arise from living with paralysis long-term, many can be prevented.

From joints and bone health to your heart, many conditions can sneak up on you. While a spinal injury treatment may be just around the corner, it could also be years away. To be prepared, always treat your body like a temple. Read on for health conditions to be aware of as the year’s progress when living with a spinal cord injury

Drop Foot

The muscles throughout your body will respond in a variety of ways when you live several years with a spinal cord injury. While spasticity and atrophy are common, another issue that can occur is muscles becoming weak in the joints, making it difficult for bone structures to stay in place. A perfect example of this is “drop foot.”

This occurs to the ankles after a neurological injury and as the years’ progress. It is when the muscles that hold the ankle straight become overly relaxed and flaccid. The muscles become unable to hold the ankle in a straight position on the footplate. Surgery can sometimes fix drop foot, but your best option is prevention.

Always make sure your ankles have the most support possible, and at all times, including when you’re in bed. You can always use pillows to position your feet so that they don’t turn in and cause eventual foot drop.

Heterotopic Ossification

Considered a mystery condition by most doctors since they aren’t exactly sure what causes it, heterotopic ossification will often occur in people with spinal cord injuries and presents typically in the joints in the body (hip area, knees, or elbows). When it occurs, a large amount of calcium is deposited into the muscles surrounding these joints in a short amount of time, causing inflammation and stiffness.

There is not much you can do in the way of prevention of heterotopic ossification. Your best bet is to be educated so you know the signs if it starts happening. Doctors will sometimes use radiation to limit the growth once it begins. Fortunately, it will stop growing around 1 to 2 months after it begins. For many people, it can make it much more difficult to use the affected joint. Surgery is sometimes utilized to remove the bone matter, but blood loss is a concern for this surgery.

Bladder Stones

Using a catheter long-term and having a neurogenic bladder long-term can have serious effects on your bladder, and one of the most common is bladder stones. The calcium buildup in your bladder can be hard to get rid of when you cannot squeeze your bladder on your own. As the months and years progress, this calcium buildup in your bladder can create stones that can be very painful and require surgery to be removed.

Fortunately, there’s much you can do in the way of prevention of bladder stones. One of the most significant things you can do is a daily saline flush using your catheter and a syringe. Many urologists will recommend this daily regimen to ensure there is no calcium buildup. It is also wise to have your bladder scanned on a yearly basis to ensure there are no stones.

Loss of Range of Motion

It is critical to do your range of motion two times a day and never fall out of this routine. Many people do and suffer the consequences, which is a massive loss of range of motion. Some people become unable to straighten their legs after decades of skipping the range of motion. Always stretch, even if you need to recruit a friend. Stretch your fingers, arms, and back as well, as everything can become contracted and make it even more difficult to move/use your body.


If you have any kind of paralysis in your trunk muscles, scoliosis can occur. Many people will wear a back brace on a daily basis to prevent scoliosis, which can work well. You can also stretch your back on a regular basis, making sure that you can always straighten your back and that the curve does not become fixed.


Osteoporosis is one of the most common side effects of living with paralysis. Almost everyone with paralysis gets osteoporosis despite intervention methods like using a standing frame on a daily basis or the new calcium yearly infusion that many people are now getting. While osteoporosis can be very hard to prevent, these intervention methods can help in a big way.

About the Author

Spinal Cord Team

The authors of are made up of attorneys, those in the medical field, and survivors of spinal cord injuries or traumatic brain injuries. Learn more about our team of authors including a brief biography that explains how they impact the SCI and TBI community


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