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Paraplegia After Spinal Cord Injury


  • Paraplegia (payr-ah-PLEE-jah) is a type of spinal cord injury (SCI). You may become paralyzed if you were in a car or sports accident and break your back. Having a tumor or other diseases in your spinal canal also can cause paraplegia. Paraplegia means that the part of the spinal cord inside your back has been injured. The symptoms of paraplegia are different depending on where and how badly your spinal cord is injured. You may have one or more of the following signs or symptoms:
    • Your muscles may be limp, especially in your arms and legs.
    • You may not be able to move and feel anything below the damaged area.
    • You may not be able to control your bowel (BMs) or bladder (urine).
  • It is possible for the nerves to start working again if you spinal cord is just bruised or swollen. The longer that there is no change in your signs and symptoms, the less likely that you will see improvement.


Take your medicine as directed.

Call your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Ask for information about where and when to go for follow-up visits:

For continuing care, treatments, or home services, ask for more information.

What will be done if I have a breathing problems?

  • Caregivers will work very closely with you to help your lungs work as well as possible and to prevent problems. You may need a ventilator, which is a machine that breathes for you. An endotracheal or "ET" tube is put in your throat. Caregivers may put a tube called a trach into the front of your neck. The ET tube or trach is hooked to the ventilator so you will receive oxygen with each breath.
  • Pulmonary hygiene is a group of exercises and treatments to help you breath better and to keep your lungs healthy. This may include breathing exercises and treatments, postural drainage, chest physiotherapy, quad assist coughing, and suctioning. Ask caregivers for information about pulmonary care for people who have a SCI.

What are contractures ?

Contractures happen when muscles, tendons, or ligaments in your body shorten. This results in less movement of a joint, such as your wrist, elbow, shoulder, or ankle. Contractures can happen as early as one week after your spinal cord injury. Contractures can be caused by nerve changes from the spinal cord to the muscles. Spasticity may also cause contractures. Ask caregivers for more information about preventing and treating contractures.

What are common problems after a spinal cord injury?

Deep vein thrombosis (DVTs) and pulmonary embolisms (PEs) are common problems after a SCI. These problems can be life-threatening. A DVT happens when a blood clot forms in a vein. A PE happens when a thrombus blocks an artery in your lung. Caregivers may give you medicine to slow the blood from clotting. You may also have a special bed that rotates to keep blood moving through your body. Caregivers may give you pressure stockings to keep blood from staying in the legs and causing clots. Caregivers will teach you the signs and symptoms of a DVT and PE.

What is depression?

Depression is when you feel sad and hopeless. Depression can make you feel so bad that you think about committing suicide (killing yourself). Depression can be treated. Ask caregivers for more information about how to cope with your feelings after a SCI.

What if I fall down?

To prevent falls, always lock your wheelchair. Lock it before transferring to and from the wheelchair, and when doing pressure shifts or other movements. Slowly move from one position to another slowly so that you do not get dizzy. If you feel yourself falling, tuck your chin to your chest to keep from hitting your head on the ground. Wear an alert bracelet so that you can call for help if you fall and cannot get back up.

What can I do if I am feeling pain?

Caregivers will work with you to find ways to control pain. Many different kinds of medicine can be used. Treatments, such as nerve blocks and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation may also help. Ask caregivers for more information about these treatments. Your caregiver may also suggest you go to a pain clinic to help you learn new ways to live with your pain.

Can I have sex after my spinal cord injury?

Many problems with sex after a SCI can be helped. Sexual and family counseling are an important part of your rehabilitation. Specially trained caregivers help you better understand sexual function and family planning. Ask caregivers for more information about sexual functions after a SCI.

Why is skin care so important?

  • You may develop decubitus ulcers on your skin. These are also are called pressure ulcers or sores, bed sores, or ischemic ulcers. Pressure sores grow when blood flowing to the skin area is slowed down or stopped. To help prevent pressure sores, shower or bathe often, making sure to wash between the folds of your skin. Dry your skin well, and keep it dry. Use an electric shaver to keep from nicking your skin when shaving.
  • If you sit or lie in one place for a long period of time, shift positions often. Because your skin may tear without you knowing it, transfer carefully from bed to chair or toilet. Have someone help or watch you while transferring. Ask caregivers for information about how to care for your skin when you have a SCI.

What is autonomic dysreflexia?

Autonomic dysreflexia is a condition that happens when your body reacts to a problem. Common problems causing autonomic dysreflexia include having a full bladder, or being unable to have a bowel movement. This very serious emergency causes your blood pressure to go dangerously high. High blood pressure can cause a stroke, seizure, and even death. It is most common in people who have a SCI at or above the sixth thoracic (chest) level (T6). Ask caregivers for more information about autonomic dysreflexia.

What is spasticity?

Spasticity is when your arms or legs move uncontrollably. Your arms and legs may also be very hard to move. It may be hard to find out what causes spasticity. A pin prick, cold air, pressure sores, tight shoes, or kidney stones can cause spasms. Feeling worried or anxious can make spasms worse. Caregivers can help you learn what causes spasms and how to control them.

What is neurogenic bladder and bowel?

Neurogenic bladder is a condition where you cannot tell when your bladder is full or cannot stop it from emptying. Neurogenic bowel is a condition where you are unable to control bowel functions after a SCI. These problems can be treated by following bladder and bowel training programs. Ask caregivers for more information about these problems and how they may be treated.

Where can I go for support?

  • Having a spinal cord injury and becoming paraplegic is life changing for you and your family. Accepting that you are paralyzed is hard. You and those close to you may feel angry, sad, or frightened. These feelings are normal. Talk to your caregivers, family, or friends about your feelings. Let them help you. Encourage those close to you to talk to your caregiver about how things are at home.
  • You may want to join a support group with people who also have paraplegia. Ask your caregiver for the names and numbers of support groups in your town. You can contact one of the following national organizations for more information.
  • Paralyzed Veterans of America
    801 Eighteenth Street NW
    Washington, DC , 20006
    Phone: 1- 800 - 424-8200
    Web Address:
  • National Spinal Cord Injury Association
    1 Church Street, Suite 600
    Rockville , MD 20850
    Phone: 1- 800 - 962-9629
    Web Address:
  • American Spinal Cord Association
    2020 Peachtree Road, NW
    Atlanta, Georgia , 30309-1402
    Phone: 1- 404 - 355-9772
    Web Address:


  • You have signs and symptoms of a DVT, such as:
    • Tenderness, pain, or swelling.
    • Warmth or skin color changes at a spot on your leg.
  • You have chest pain or trouble breathing that is getting worse over time.
  • You have signs and symptoms of a urinary tract infection, such as:
    • You have a fever.
    • Blood or blood clots in your urine.
    • Nausea (upset stomach) or vomiting.
    • Increase in bladder spasms.
    • Decrease in your urine output.
    • Pain in your back around your waist (if you have feeling there).
  • You have signs and symptoms of bowel problems, such as:
    • Abdominal pain or a distended (swollen) abdomen that is worse than normal and is not better after performing bowel care.
    • Bleeding from your rectum (rear end).
    • You have a fever.
    • Vomiting or diarrhea for two or more days.
  • You think you are developing a joint contracture or have trouble performing your range of motion exercises.


  • You suddenly feel lightheaded and have trouble breathing.
  • You have new and sudden chest pain. You may have more pain when you take deep breaths or cough. You may cough up blood.
  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.
  • You have the symptoms of autonomic dysreflexia that are not relieved by your bowel program or bladder emptying. These may include:
    • Sudden increase in blood pressure.
    • Blurred vision or seeing spots.
    • Cold, dry skin with goose bumps below your SCI.
    • Hot, sweating, flushed (red) skin above your SCI.
    • Sudden throbbing headache.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.