Wondering what you will and won’t be able to do after a C4 spinal cord injury?
All spinal cord injuries will vary in severity. Even amongst C4 spinal cord injuries, people will experience different levels of impairment.
It’s important to realize that your spinal cord injury is unique to you and that your recovery will not be exactly the same as anyone else’s.
This article will go over some of the main functional impairments you can expect with a C4 spinal cord injury.
To help you stay positive, we’ll also remind you what you can do despite these challenges.
What to Expect After a C4 Spinal Cord Injury
C4 spinal cord injury will result in quadriplegia, which affects control and feeling in the arms, trunk, and legs.
On the bright side, people with C4 spinal cord injuries will be able to fully control their head, neck, and partial ability to raise their shoulders.
1. Full-Time Caregiver Assistance
Unfortunately, having such a high-level spinal cord injury will result in the need for a full-time caregiver.
Your caregiver will help you perform daily activities like eating, brushing your teeth, getting dressed, and using the bathroom.
What You Can Do:
Brain function will not be compromised by spinal cord injury. People with C4 spinal cord injuries will still be able to express their own thoughts, opinions, and needs.
Unlike C1-3 spinal cord injury patients, C4 spinal cord injury patients should be able to speak without any issues. This means that you’ll always be able to effectively communicate with your caregiver and loved ones.
2. Bladder and Bowel Problems
Bladder and bowel problems are common among spinal cord injury patients because the nerve roots that innervate these areas of the body are located towards the bottom of the spinal cord.
The muscles in this area have reflexes and rely on contractions and relaxations to remove the body’s waste.
When there’s limited control over these muscles, people become prone to accidents.
What You Can Do:
Management of bladder and bowel problems typically consists of catheterization and a bowel management program.
Bladder augmentation can help lower risk of accidents by increasing the size of your bladder which affects how often you need to empty it.
Taking medications can also help you better time and control your bladder and bowel movements.
Similarly, adding more fiber into your diet and drinking more water can help aid digestion.
3. Breathing Difficulties
The C3-C5 nerve roots innervate the diaphragm, which is one of the main muscles for breathing.
At least initially, C4 spinal cord injury patients need the assistance of a ventilator to breathe.
Respiratory complications are the most common cause of death in spinal cord injury patients due to weakened cough and inability to clear the lungs.
What You Can Do:
It’s important to practice breathing and coughing exercises to strengthen your respiratory muscles.
Drinking lots of water can help thin out any buildup and make it easier to clear your lungs.
Generally, C4 spinal cord injury patients learn to wean off the ventilator and breathe independently.
4. Muscle Atrophy
Our bodies are incredibly adaptive and when you don’t use your muscles, they’ll shrink.
People who have so much paralysis in their bodies can’t move as often or as much as they’d like to, so some muscle atrophy is inevitable.
The higher your level of spinal cord injury and the more severe it is, the greater the muscle atrophy.
But do you need muscle mass if you can’t control your movements?
Long story short, physical inactivity has lots of negative consequences including:
- Reduced circulation
- Blood pooling in your arms and legs
- Increased risk of pressure sores
- Slowed metabolic rate
- Increased risk of injury due to weakened bones, joints, and muscles
Health is holistic and it’s important to make an effort to recover to prevent unnecessary secondary complications.
What You Can Do:
Passive range of motion exercises will help improve joint range of motion, stimulate the muscles, and increase circulation.
Just like muscles can shrink, they can also grow.
If you have some functions below your neck, focus on moving and exercising those as much as possible.
The more you practice moving what you can, the easier the movements will get.
C4 Spinal Cord Injury Recovery
Spinal cord injury rehabilitation will focus on promoting both your physical and mental health.
Physical therapy for C4 spinal cord injury patients will assess how severe your motor impairments are and work on improving your gross motor skills through exercise.
Occupational therapy will focus more on teaching you and your caregiver how to go about activities of daily living like toileting, eating, and grooming so that the transition back to daily life is smoother.
Life after a C4 spinal cord injury is going to require a lot of adjustments and you’re definitely going to need to be mentally strong to cope with them.
Joining a spinal cord injury support group will help you meet people who understand what you’re going through and learn new ways to cope.
One of the best ways to stay positive is to document your progress through photos, videos, or journals. Physical representations of your recovery journey will remind you how far you’ve come.
A C4 spinal cord injury can drastically change your life, but by focusing on what you can do, you’ll be mentally stronger and more motivated to work towards recovery.