Maintaining Your Health After A Spinal Cord Injury

Maintaining your health post-injury can be challenging. United Spinal Association is here to provide you with the information and resources you need to make it easier.

“Often, people with spinal cord injury or disorder do not have specialists in their area or access to specialized information,” says United Spinal Association’s Nurse Information Specialist Jane Wierbicky, RN. “We provide info that they can discuss with their doctors.”

A 6-point primer on bowel, bladder, skin care, bone health, nutrition and autonomic dysreflexia

Following are six top areas to remain aware of and a few tips on managing them.

Bowel Health

Managing your bowel care after spinal cord injury is vital for your overall health. Although it’s a sensitive topic to discuss, especially for someone new to SCI, it gets easier to talk about over time.

Bladder Health

Learning to manage your bladder after a spinal cord injury is essential. In this video, our hospital member Craig Hospital presents an overview of SCI-related bladder complications and management techniques.

Skin Care

Both people with new injuries and those who have been injured for a long time need to establish and maintain healthy skin care habits. This is because it’s sometimes difficult to know when an area of your body is becoming irritated where you don’t have full sensation. Improper skin care can lead to serious complications like skin breakdowns or pressure injuries (sometimes called pressure sores). These can require extended periods to heal.
The good news is that most pressure injuries are preventable with proper attention.

Bone Health

People with SCI are at high risk for osteoporosis and fractures. This is because they will begin experiencing bone loss immediately after their injury. This loss often continues rapidly for about two years after injury. After that, the rate of bone loss slows but does not stop. “There are a few things you can do to maximize your bone health,” says Wierbicky. “You can quit smoking, and you can talk with your doctor about any medications that may hurt bone health as well as medications and dietary supplements to help maintain your bone health.” Learn more by reading this Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center factsheet.

Nutrition and Exercise

Nutrition and exercise are essential for your overall health after spinal cord injury. Exercise and eating a balanced diet help your body function the best it can, such as boosting your immune system, promoting regular bowel movements, and maintaining skin integrity. Regular exercise can help improve your flexibility, cardiovascular health, and many other aspects.

Autonomic Dysreflexia

Autonomic dysreflexia is a medical emergency. It occurs when your blood pressure spikes in response to something happening to your body below your injury level, like pain or pressure. Symptoms include a sudden increase in systolic blood pressure (that’s the top number), a pounding headache, flushed skin, goosebumps or tingling sensation, blurry vision or seeing spots, a stuffy nose, anxiety or jitters, tightness in your chest, flutters in your heart or chest, or trouble breathing.

If you think this is happening to you, sit up or raise your head until your blood pressure is normal. Loosen or remove anything tight on your body. Check your blood pressure about every three minutes. Check for problems with your bladder, bowel or skin.

Call your doctor or visit the emergency room if the warning signs continue or return. Let them know you may have AD, need your blood pressure checked, must remain sitting up, and ask for the cause of the problem to be identified.

The above info on AD and much more can be found in Autonomic Dysreflexia: What You Should Knowopens PDF file . This guide is published by Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Consortium for Spinal Cord Medicine, of which United Spinal Association is a member.

This blog post just touches on maintaining your health post-SCI. Please contact United Spinal Association’s Community Support team for more information on these and any other SCI-related health concern. They will provide you with targeted medical resources to share and discuss with your medical professionals.

Join the United Spinal Association community by signing up for a free membership. To support their mission, donate here.

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