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Quality of Life After Spinal Cord Injury: How to Improve It

couple practicing tips to improve quality of life after spinal cord injury

Quality of life after spinal cord injury is dependent on a wide range of factors including the severity of injury and one’s mental health status. Because every spinal cord injury is unique, everyone will learn to cope differently.

While many of the effects of SCI may seem out of your control, there are ways to be proactive and improve your quality of life.

To help you understand the various factors involved in determining quality of life after SCI, this article will discuss:

How Spinal Cord Injury May Affect Quality of Life

Many people don’t realize the full impact of their spinal cord injury until after they leave the hospital and return to their everyday lives. In many ways, your body might not feel like your own due to loss of motor control and/or sensation. As a result, it can feel like you’re learning how to move and function again for the first time.

Although ‘quality of life’ is a frequently used term, its definition remains vague and is difficult to measure. Various factors affect quality of life after spinal cord injury including social support, income, perception of control, and the effects of secondary complications.

Below, we’ll go into more detail about how a spinal cord injury may affect quality of life.

Perception of Reduced Control Over Life

women improving quality of life after spinal cord injury by spending time with loved ones

Depending on the level and severity of the spinal cord injury, weakness or loss of motor control can significantly limit one’s ability to perform everyday activities like walking, getting dressed, and using the bathroom independently. This may contribute to the perception of having reduced control over one’s life.

Similarly, loss of sensation may increase your risk of injury. For example, if you can’t feel when something is too hot, you likely won’t move away from it. As a result, many individuals with SCI may need extra help to care for themselves and require a caregiver.

If you feel it is too much of a burden to ask your family for help, hiring a caregiver can be an effective way to get the support you need.

Changes to Mental Health

Although spinal cord injuries directly affect motor control and sensation, the resulting outcomes can also affect your mental health. Learning to effectively cope after a spinal cord injury plays a significant role in determining quality of life.

For some, learning to adapt can be extremely challenging. For others, the financial and emotional strain of potentially being unable to return to their jobs in the same capacity, if at all, can be a major source of stress.

As a result, individuals may develop mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. This may interfere with one’s ability to stay motivated during rehabilitation, care for themselves, and interact with others.

Learn more about depression after spinal cord injury»  


Another major factor that can significantly affect one’s quality of life after spinal cord injury is the development of chronic pain.

Most individuals with SCIs experience some extent of pain. This can be caused by:

  • the overuse of unaffected muscles to compensate for paralyzed muscles
  • sensory complications below the level of injury
  • secondary effects of SCI such as pressure sores or spasticity

Pain may discourage individuals from participating in everyday activities, socializing, and rehabilitation. Fortunately, there are several ways to treat or reduce pain so that individuals with SCIs can have a better quality of life.

Learn more about pain after spinal cord injury» 

How to Improve Quality of Life After Spinal Cord Injury

To effectively improve quality of life after spinal cord injury, individuals should focus not only on the impact of SCI on their everyday life and relationships but also consider the social implications of disability.  

It’s suggested that individuals who adjust to life after SCI well are those who are able to redefine their values and place less emphasis on their physique.

Below, we’ll discuss several tips to promote a better quality of life after spinal cord injury.

1. Use Adaptive Tools if Necessary

Adaptive tools can help individuals with spinal cord injuries live more productive, independent lives. For example, if you’re unable to grip your utensils, you can use adaptive utensils that wrap around your forearm to feed yourself independently rather than relying on assistance from someone else.

Additionally, many individuals can learn to drive again by getting car adaptations (such as hand controls or wheelchair ramps) installed.

Adaptations help individuals perform tasks that they otherwise may not be able to do.  This can help boost confidence and encourage them to try more things on their own.

2) Meditate

meditation to improve quality of life after spinal cord injury

Making an active effort to think positively can drastically affect your actions throughout the day. Many individuals with SCI experience depression or anxiety from comparing their lives before and after injury.

Setting aside time daily to meditate and practice mindfulness can help you become more present-minded, accepting of yourself, and move forward. Engaging in religious activities, such as praying, during times of meditation can also help to improve your spiritual wellness and overall quality of life.

3) Surround Yourself with Friends and Family

Many individuals that report lower quality of life after spinal cord injury attribute it to loneliness.

Just because a spinal cord injury has affected your mobility does not mean that you have to compromise your social life. Your friends and family want to help you and see you recover, both physically and mentally. Surrounding yourself with loved ones may help you feel more supported as you learn to adapt to life after SCI.

4) Join a Support Group

Sometimes, you may feel like your friends and family don’t understand what you’re going through. Joining a spinal cord injury support group can help connect you to people who do. There, you can express your concerns, learn from others’ experiences, and discover helpful resources.

You’ll also be able to help others who are struggling to adjust to life after SCI by sharing your own experiences and listening.

5) Participate in Rehabilitative Therapy

Participating in rehabilitative therapies like physical and occupational therapy after spinal cord injury will promote a better quality of life by improving mobility and functional independence.

A physical therapist will assess your abilities and create a custom exercise plan to improve strength and motor control.  The best way to improve your mobility after spinal cord injury is to practice moving as much as you can. Consistent, task-specific repetition may help retrain your brain, spinal cord, and muscles to work in sync again.

Additionally, if it’s indicated, going to occupational therapy will help you to increase your independence with daily activities (bathing, dressing, toileting, etc.), and can even help you with community re-integration skills such as participation in social/leisure activities, returning to work or school, and navigating community transportation.

6) Eat Healthily

What you eat can affect your mood, energy levels, focus, and overall functioning of your body. A nutrient-rich diet will help ensure that your mind and body are in optimal shape to pursue spinal cord injury recovery.

7) Stay Active

Even if your abilities have changed significantly, there are plenty of ways to stay both physically and mentally active following a spinal cord injury. Participation in adaptive sports or exploring new hobbies can help you find new passions and increase your quality of life.

Even if you’ve sustained a higher-level spinal cord injury, there are many ways to continue to participate in recreational activities, such as renting a track chair to go on outdoor trails or playing virtual reality games.

Understanding Quality of Life After Spinal Cord Injury: Key Points

While life after spinal cord injury requires change, individuals can continue to have a good quality of life.

Allow yourself time to cope and take a holistic approach to health. The way you eat, sleep, think, socialize, and exercise are all connected to overall well-being.

We hope this article helped you understand what changes to expect after spinal cord injury and how to improve your quality of life.

featured images: iStock/vadimguzhva/Halfpoint

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