The Most Common Problems Associated with SCI

Spinal cord injury (SCI) can result in a wide range of physical, functional, and psychosocial challenges that significantly impact individuals’ lives. The specific effects of SCI depend on the level and severity of the injury, as well as individual factors such as age, pre-existing health conditions, and access to medical care. However, several common problems are frequently associated with SCI, affecting various aspects of mobility, sensation, bodily functions, and emotional well-being. Here are some of the most prevalent issues.

  • Loss of Motor Function. SCI often leads to partial or complete loss of motor function below the level of injury. Depending on the location and severity of the injury, individuals may experience paralysis or weakness in their limbs, trunk, and pelvic organs. This loss of motor function can significantly impair mobility, independence, and the ability to perform activities of daily living.
  • Sensory Changes. Sensory changes are common following SCI and may include alterations in touch, pain, temperature sensation, and proprioception (awareness of body position). Individuals may experience heightened sensitivity, numbness, tingling, or loss of sensation in affected areas of the body. These sensory changes can impact individuals’ ability to perceive and respond to stimuli, increasing the risk of injury and complicating rehabilitation efforts.
  • Loss of Bladder and Bowel Control. SCI often disrupts the normal functioning of the bladder and bowel, leading to urinary and fecal incontinence or retention. Bladder dysfunction may result in urinary urgency, frequency, leakage, or difficulty emptying the bladder, while bowel dysfunction can cause constipation, diarrhea, or involuntary bowel movements. These issues can have a significant impact on individuals’ quality of life, self-esteem, and social participation.
  • Chronic Pain. Chronic pain is a common complication of SCI, affecting up to 80% of individuals with spinal cord injuries. Neuropathic pain, characterized by burning, shooting, or stabbing sensations, is particularly prevalent and can be challenging to manage. Additionally, individuals may experience musculoskeletal pain, spasticity-related pain, or secondary pain due to pressure ulcers or overuse injuries. Chronic pain can significantly diminish individuals’ functional independence, sleep quality, and psychological well-being.
  • Spasticity and Muscle Spasms. SCI often results in increased muscle tone, spasticity, and involuntary muscle contractions below the level of injury. These spastic movements can be painful, disruptive, and interfere with mobility and self-care activities. Muscle spasms may occur spontaneously or in response to stimuli such as bladder or bowel distention, skin irritation, or changes in position. Managing spasticity is essential for optimizing comfort, function, and quality of life for individuals with SCI.
  • Respiratory Complications. Respiratory complications are a significant concern following SCI, particularly in individuals with injuries affecting the cervical or high thoracic regions of the spinal cord. Reduced respiratory muscle strength, impaired cough reflex, and respiratory insufficiency can predispose individuals to respiratory infections, pneumonia, and respiratory failure. Respiratory management, including pulmonary rehabilitation, ventilator support, and respiratory hygiene, is crucial for minimizing the risk of complications and maintaining respiratory function.
  • Psychological and Emotional Challenges. SCI can have profound psychological and emotional effects on individuals, leading to feelings of grief, loss, anger, frustration, anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Adjusting to the physical limitations, functional changes, and lifestyle adaptations associated with SCI can be challenging and may require ongoing psychological support, counseling, and peer mentorship. Additionally, individuals may struggle with body image concerns, self-esteem issues, and changes in social roles and relationships, which can impact their overall well-being and quality of life.

Spinal cord injury is associated with a variety of common problems that affect individuals’ physical, functional, and psychosocial well-being. Addressing these challenges requires a multidisciplinary approach encompassing medical management, rehabilitation interventions, assistive technology, psychosocial support, and community reintegration strategies tailored to the unique needs and goals of each individual with SCI. With comprehensive care and support, individuals with SCI can maximize their independence, quality of life, and participation in meaningful activities.

At Barber & Associates, we work hard to ensure that every client we serve recovers as much as possible to address spinal cord injury issues.  Give us a call today to see how we can help you!