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What Are the Most Prevalent Consequences of Spinal Cord Injury?

When it comes to paralysis, people generally think about the inability to move the legs and/or hands. However, the consequences of damage to the spinal cord can go beyond the impact on mobility. This can be seen as impacting on three levels:

  • the motor level – mobility is decreased
  • the sensory level – for example, sensitivity of the skin is decreased
  • and the autonomic level – the activity and functions of the inner organs (bladder, bowel, cardiovascular activities, respiration, etc.) or sexual functions are controlled involuntarily, meaning that the person does not consciously control these functions.

If autonomic functioning of the bladder and bowel is impaired, the person affected would have to learn to manage these functions consciously. Optimal bladder and bowel management is important to avoid complications such as recurring bladder or kidney infection, or in the worse case, permanent damage.

Until 60 years ago, the life expectancy of persons with SCI was low due to such complications and for which no long-lasting treatment options were available. Thanks to the development of effective bladder and bowel management strategies including trained professional care, technological and medical aids, the life expectancy of persons with SCI has increased to almost the same level as persons without SCI. Bladder and bowel management is also an issue addressed early on in the treatment of SCI.

Another major issue confronting persons with SCI is recurring pressure sores. Specific attention should be paid to the sensitivity of the skin, since this is decreased in persons with SCI. Furthermore, persons with SCI frequently experience respiratory difficulties, and body temperature regulation in tetraplegics and paraplegics with high lesion levels is affected.

Despite the range of complications and difficulties that a person with SCI can experience, these can be addressed in a concerted effort by the person with SCI, his/her family or caregiver and, if engaged in a rehabilitation program, the rehabilitation team.


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  • Shepherd Center. Understanding spinal cord injury: What you should know about spinal cord injury and recovery. 2018. [Internet]  Available from: Accessed March 2018.