If you or a loved one have recently had a spinal cord injury, you probably have a lot of questions. We put together a list of spinal cord injury facts that’ll help you better understand what to expect along your recovery journey.
15 Up-to-Date Spinal Cord Injury Facts
There’s a lot that has yet to be understood about spinal cord injuries but throughout the years, many groundbreaking discoveries have been made.
Here are 15 up-to-date spinal cord injury facts to catch up on!
1. Every Spinal Cord Injury is Unique
Even if 2 people have the same level of injury, they’ll experience SCI differently due to what side of the spinal cord was damaged and how severe the lesion is.
Lots of different factors play a role in determining quality of life following SCI like pre-existing health problems, diet, and how aggressively one pursues rehabilitation.
2. The Spinal Cord Can Be Rewired
After a spinal cord injury, the lesion cannot be healed. However, the spinal cord is extremely adaptive.
The majority of spinal cord injury patients experience some form of functional recovery.
Ever heard of neural plasticity? This is the central nervous system’s ability to adapt and rewire itself.
If you have an incomplete spinal cord injury, that means that some of the neural pathways in your spinal cord survived the injury.
These spared neural pathways can be trained to pick up the slack and recover functions affected by damaged pathways.
3. Spinal Cord Injury Patients Can Still Recover Years After Their Injury
It’s a commonly held belief that spinal cord injury patients only have up to a year to recover and after that, they’re as good as it’s ever going to get.
Well, that’s just not true.
Many SCI patients continue to recover years following their injury.
The central nervous system is at a heightened state of plasticity the first 6 months or so following a spinal cord injury.
This is why the most recovery is typically seen during this period.
However, that does not mean plasticity goes away. The spinal cord will always have plasticity, so as long as you’re willing to put in the work, we believe recovery is possible!
4. Spinal Cord Injury Patients Can Be Independent
Not all spinal cord injuries are going to result in complete dependence.
Going to occupational therapy will teach you how to perform activities of daily living and use adaptive tools to help smooth your transition back to everyday life.
5. Your Spinal Cord Injury is Often Not as Bad as it Initially Seems
After a spinal cord injury, you may experience spinal shock due to swelling of the spinal cord.
Spinal shock is when you temporarily lose functions and reflexes below your level of injury.
Once the swelling starts to die down, functions will gradually start to return.
6. The Majority of Spinal Cord Injury Patients Are Male
78% of recent spinal cord injury cases are males, according to the National Spinal Cord Statistical Center.
This is attributed to the fact that males are more likely to engage in risky behaviors than women.
7. The Majority of Spinal Cord Injury Patients Have Incomplete SCIs
About 68% of spinal cord injuries result in incomplete SCIs.
Incomplete quadriplegia is the most common type of spinal cord injury, making up about 47% of all reported spinal cord injuries since 2015.
8. Women with Spinal Cord Injuries Can Still Have Children
A spinal cord injury doesn’t affect a woman’s fertility.
However, it is possible that secondary conditions like autonomic dysreflexia, bowel and bladder dysfunction, and respiratory complications can worsen.
Therefore, it’s extremely important to be in close communication with your obstetrician.
Many women with spinal cord injuries have children without any major complications.
9. Some Spinal Cord Injury Patients Can’t Sweat
Our bodies produce sweat to cool us off when we get too hot.
After a spinal cord injury, the brain may not receive sensory input from areas below your level of injury, and the body may not receive signals from the brain to regulate body temperature.
10. It’s Possible to Feel Pain in Parts of the Body That Are Otherwise Paralyzed
Did you know that pain is one of the strongest receptors?
In fact, feeling pain in areas that are otherwise paralyzed may even be a good sign of recovery.
Feeling something is always better than feeling nothing. In order to feel pain, there has to be neural pathways that can send the stimuli to the brain.
This means that there are spared neural pathways and recovery is possible!
11. There’s Nothing Wrong with Your Body or Brain
There’s nothing wrong with your brain or body functions, just the link between.
Unless the event that caused your spinal cord injury also resulted in a traumatic brain injury, your cognitive functioning should not be affected.
12. Some Spinal Cord Injury Patients Can Faint from Standing Too Quickly
SCI patients have an increased risk of experiencing orthostatic hypotension, which is when your blood pressure suddenly drops from sitting or standing up too quickly after lying down for long periods.
Following a spinal cord injury, the communication between your body and brain gets disrupted, which can affect the constricting and relaxing of blood vessels.
Many people with orthostatic hypotension experience lightheadedness and fainting due to reduced blood flow to the brain.
13. Wearing Clothes That Are Too Tight Can Cause Adverse Side Effects
Many spinal cord injury patients experience autonomic dysreflexia, which is when the autonomic nervous system overreacts when stimulated.
The autonomic nervous system is responsible for regulating involuntary body functions like sweating, heart rate, blood pressure, and digestion.
Any sort of stimulus that irritates your body below your level of injury (tight clothes, a full bladder, and extreme temperatures) can trigger autonomic dysreflexia.
Common signs of autonomic dysreflexia include blurry vision, sweating, high blood pressure, and feelings of anxiety.
14. Pneumonia is the Most Common Cause of Death in Spinal Cord Injury Patients.
Higher-level spinal cord injuries (C5 and up) can disrupt lung capacity and breathing.
Respiratory complications are the most common cause of death in spinal cord injury patients.
When diaphragm function is impaired, the lungs can’t expand as much, which makes it difficult to take deep breaths and cough effectively.
15. Children Can Recover from Spinal Cord Injury Quicker Than Adults
The main reason why this is possible is because children’s bodies are constantly growing while an adult’s is fully developed.
Because cells in children regenerate at a much quicker rate than those in adults, children tend to have increased plasticity, allowing them to recover functions quicker.
Understanding Spinal Cord Injury
As you just learned, every spinal cord injury is unique. Recovery, management, and secondary complications will all vary from person to person.
Hopefully, these spinal cord injury facts taught you something new and help you better understand your injury and its potential outcomes.
Featured image: ©iStock.com/XiXinXing