Spinal cord injury victims run the risk of complications because of the change in the way their body functions and these changes can be distressing to the patient. Rehabilitation will provide the necessary education and training to deal with the changes that are a result of the spinal cord damage.
The most common issues include:
- Skin Sensation: One of the issues with a spinal cord injury is below the damaged area the individual may have lost all or part of skin sensations. This means the skin is unable to send messages to the brain in the event of heat, cold or prolonged pressure. The damage this may cause with prolonged pressure is pressure sores often referred to as bed sores that may be avoided by frequent position changes. Rehabilitation educates the victim about proper skin care to avoid problems like pressure sores.
- Respiratory System: This type of injury may affect the respiratory system making it more difficult for the individual to breathe or cough if their abdominal or chest muscles are affected by the injury. The reason is due to the fact that the chest and abdomen muscles as well as the diaphragm may be affected. The neurological level of the injury will be the determining factor in breathing issues. When the injury affects the cervical and thoractic, there is a higher risk of lung issues and pneumonia. Therapy and medications can be used in treatment for these types of health problems.
- Pain: In some cases especially with an incomplete spinal cord injury the individual may experience pain. This may be neuropathic or central pain and in some instances the individual may experience muscle or joint pain from overuse of certain muscles.
- Circulatory: The individual with a spinal cord injury may experience circulatory issues that involve low blood pressure referred to as orthostatic hypotension or swelling of the limbs. This increases the risk for developing blood clots like pulmonary embolus or deep vein thrombosis. The other end of the scope for the spinal cord injury patient is issues with circulatory control, which is a rise in blood pressure referred to as autonomic hyperreflexia that can be life threatening. During rehabilitation the patent will learn how to handle these issues that may affect him or her due to the specific type of damage.
- Muscle Tone: In some spinal cord injury patients there can be muscle issues. Muscle spasticity, which is an uncontrolled tightening of the muscles or motion, is one problem. The other muscle issue they may case is muscle tone flaccidity, which are soft and limp muscles.
- Sexual Issues: Spinal cord injury victims may have sexual health issues including sexual function or fertility. Depending on the damage the individual may have a heightened sensitivity in the area above the injury and there could be a decrease or absence of sensation. Spinal cord injuries in men may result in changes in their erection and ejaculation. In women it may result in a change in lubrication, though in most cases there will be no physical change in women to inhibit sexual intercourse. Most female spinal cord injury patients have no change in their ability to become pregnant, experience normal labor and delivery or breast feed. Spinal cord injury patients can find options for sexual functioning and fertility with the help of Urologists and fertility specialist specializing in spinal cord injury.
- Bladder Control: Bladder control may be an issue with a spinal cord injury, since the bladder stores urine from the kidneys and the brain may not have the ability to send messages to the bladder as a result of the spinal cord damage. In rehabilitation the patient will learn techniques to empty the bladder and drinking clear fluids. Changes in the bladder control can lead to a higher risk of urinary and kidney infections or bladder stones.
- Bowel Control: The stomach and intestines work in a similar way in spinal cord injury patients as they would normally. In some cases the bowel movement may change and techniques will be taught to the patient in rehabilitation to change this function. It may also be recommended to eat a high-fiber diet to correct bowel issues.
- Depression: The changes in the body, pain and daily life may cause the spinal cord injury victim to suffer from depression. Coping skills can be taught in rehabilitation and other medical options to help deal with this condition.
- Fitness: Muscle atrophy can be one of the problems faced after a spinal cord injury and with the loss of mobility there can be other health issues such as weight loss, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Physical and occupational therapy can help with a fitness and exercise plan to avoid some issues and a dietitian can assist with daily nutrition.