Weight loss after spinal cord injury is completely normal because your body is undergoing a lot of metabolic changes.
The key to weight management after an SCI is to find the right balance of food intake and energy expenditure.
In this article, we’ll go over what causes weight loss after spinal cord injury and how weight affects your long-term health outlook.
What Causes Weight Loss After Spinal Cord Injury?
When you touch something, a nerve stimulus travels through the spinal cord, to the brain. The brain then processes the information and sends a response back down the spinal cord telling your body what to do.
With spinal cord injury, the brain and body can no longer effectively communicate because the neural pathways are damaged.
The reason spinal cord injury patients get paralysis is because of this inability for the brain and body to communicate. When your brain can’t receive, your body can’t react.
So what causes weight loss after spinal cord injury? The short answer is physical inactivity. Spinal cord injury patients have limited mobility because of paralysis.
Our bodies are incredibly adaptable. When you don’t use your body, your bones, fat, and muscles start to deteriorate from nonuse, which causes weight loss after spinal cord injury.
How Much Weight Will I Lose After SCI?
A lot of things affect how much weight you lose after spinal cord injury like the severity and location of your injury.
The higher your level of injury, the more limited your mobility is and the harder it is to stay active.
Is Weight Loss After Spinal Cord Injury Good or Bad?
Especially in today’s society, there’s a misconception that weight loss is seen as a positive thing. While weight can be an indicator of health, it is not the only factor to consider.
Health and weight loss are not the same thing.
Weight loss is not equivalent to fat loss. So many other factors like muscle, organs, blood, water, and bone percentage make up your weight.
One of the goals of spinal cord injury recovery is to help preserve the integrity of your musculoskeletal system, which is responsible for maintaining posture, stability, and movement.
If you lose weight from deteriorating muscles and bones, your recovery from SCI will be more difficult.
Your bones become more vulnerable to fracture and your muscles won’t be able to contract, which prevents movement.
Weight Gain After Spinal Cord Injury
There’s initial weight loss after spinal cord injury due to reduced bone and muscle density, but many SCI patients tend to gain weight in the long-run.
This is because your metabolism slows after spinal cord injury due to reduced muscle density and physical activity. Your body needs less energy to carry out everyday functions.
After spinal cord injury, you’ll often find that eating the same amount that you did before will cause you to gain weight.
Generally, the higher your level of injury, the fewer calories you’ll need.
This does NOT mean that you should starve yourself because you can’t move as much. Our bodies still need a certain amount of calories every day to function normally.
The best way to determine how much you should eat to stay healthy after spinal cord injury is to speak to your doctor or a dietician.
Being overweight with spinal cord injury can increase the risks of serious health problems like:
- high blood pressure
- cardiac disease
- sleep apnea
- respiratory failure
- pressure sores
With an SCI, you often have to rely more on your arms to compensate for lack of leg function.
Actions like pushing your wheelchair and transferring yourself in or out of bed can put a lot of stress on your arms.
When you’re overweight, you add even more pressure, which increases strain your joints and can lead to musculoskeletal pain.
We all know that to be healthy, we need to eat a nutrient-dense diet and exercise regularly. This formula does not change after spinal cord injury!
You don’t need to be out of breath and struggling to be active. There are many different exercises for spinal cord injury patients that help you build strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance.
Make sure to make an effort to move around often. Small movements add up and can make a huge difference!
Some diet tips for weight management after spinal cord injury are to:
- Eat More Fruits and Vegetables: Most fruits and vegetables have a lot of fiber and water, which will help make you feel full. They’re also generally low in calories and packed full of nutrients.
- Add Variation: Make sure that your diet for spinal cord injury recovery is balanced with proteins, carbs, and healthy fats to get a variety of vitamins and minerals.
- Practice Portion Control: Even if you’re eating healthy foods, eating too much can cause weight gain. Try to be mindful of how much you’re eating.
- Do Not Skip Meals: Going too long without eating can cause your hunger to build and make you more likely to eat more than you usually would. Frequently skipping meals will also slow your metabolism.
Managing Weight Gain or Weight Loss After Spinal Cord Injury
Life after spinal cord injury requires a lot of adjustments in everything from how you get from one place to another to how you use the bathroom or exercise.
Adjustment takes time and requires a lot of mental strength.
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you gain or lose weight after spinal cord injury. Everybody reacts to stress differently.
Recovery is a long process that has its fair share of ups and downs. Try to focus less on the number on the scale and more on establishing healthy habits.
Take notice of how different foods make you feel. Some will energize you, while others will leave you feeling lethargic.
It takes a little bit of trial and error, but once you figure out how to balance your eating and energy expenditure, you’ll see what a significant impact it can have on your overall health.