Spinal Cord Injury Community

National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month

Brooke Phillips, CWCMS
Editor | Shield HealthCare
09/09/13  7:00 PM PST
Spinal Cord Injury Awareness

Every 48 minutes, someone in the U.S. is paralyzed from a spinal cord injury (SCI).  Some of these injuries happen as a result of a traumatic accident, such as motor vehicle accidents, falls, sports injuries and work-related accidents, including injuries sustained by veterans while serving as members of the United States Armed Forces.

Other spinal cord injuries, known as non-traumatic SCI, happen gradually due to illness or disorder (SCI/D).  Some causes of non-traumatic SCI include Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease), Lupus, Spina bifida, Spinal stenosis, Syringomyelia (SM), and Transverse myelitis.

September was designated by congress as National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month.  This September, we raise awareness about the need for research to find better treatments, therapies, and a cure for paralysis.  Paralysis can happen to anyone at any time, changing a person’s life in an instant and creating new challenges in everyday life.  National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month highlights the urgent need for research into reducing, preventing and reversing paralysis, in order to improve the quality of life of people living with paralysis and their families.

What is an SCI?

The spinal cord is a bundle of nerve cells and fibers that runs from the brain all the way down through the lower back. The spinal cord carries messages from the brain to every part of the body.  It also receives incoming messages from the body that it returns to the brain.  When a person sustains an SCI, the communication between the brain and other parts of the body is disrupted, and messages no longer flow past the damaged area.

Secondary Conditions with an SCI

Bladder and Bowel Care: Because the nerves controlling the bladder and bowel are attached to the very base of the spinal cord, most spinal cord injuries will affect bladder and bowel function to some degree.  There are many tools and techniques available for bladder and bowel management, including intermittent catheterization, Foley catheters and external catheters; surgery to enlarge the bladder or to allow for catheterization through the abdomen; and digital or manual stimulation techniques for regular bowel care.

Skin Care:  Pressure on the skin prevents blood flow through the tiny blood vessels that supply our skin with nutrients and oxygen.  Extended pressure can starve the skin of these nutrients, and the tissue begins to die, leading to a pressure ulcer or sore.   Anyone can get a pressure sore, including those with full mobility.  However, a person with limited mobility and impaired sensation is more susceptible to pressure sores because he or she may not be able to sense when a weight shift is necessary to relieve pressure.   Changes in skin chemistry and muscle tone as a result of paralysis may also contribute to increased susceptibility.

Spasticity: Spasticity, or involuntary muscle spasms, can be a side effect of paralysis.  Spasticity may range from mild muscle stiffness to severe, uncontrollable movements.   When the normal flow of nerve messages is interrupted in and below the damaged area, the spinal cord sometimes attempts to respond to nerve messages that do not travel to the brain.  The spinal cord, however, is less efficient than the brain, and its response to nerve messages can be over exaggerated.  This overactive muscle response is called spastic hypertonia.

Chronic Pain: People who are paralyzed may need to manage recurring pain resulting from nerve damage, also known as neurogenic pain.  Treatment options include medications, electrical stimulation, nerve blocks, surgery, and lifestyle management techniques such as exercise and relaxation.

While we work towards a cure for paralysis, it is important to note that individuals living with an SCI can live healthy, active, productive and happy lives.   Many individuals with spinal cord injuries can find useful resources in our online Urological Community and Wound Community. Additional resources can be found through the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, Apparelyzed and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, among many others.

Source information for this article was provided by the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, the United Spinal Association, the Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Buoniconti Fund.

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