There are several secondary conditions that creep up as you live with a spinal cord injury. Immobility coupled with a lack of sensation can cause a host of health issues, and these issues can be life-threatening if they’re not managed correctly. Luckily, it is possible to prevent many of these secondary conditions. See the most common conditions and how to prevent them below.
Staying on top of your bladder is critical to your long-term health if you have a spinal cord injury. One of the best things you can do is drink plenty of water daily, as water flushes out your bladder. Also whatever kind of bladder management method you’re using, make sure to clean the site properly before catheterizing.
Many people experience bladder stones after spinal cord injuries, but these are preventable. There is a growing number of doctors who believe cutting out calcium can prevent stones. An annual ultrasound of your bladder can be a good way to check for bladder stones, since it emits a lower radiation vs. a CT scan. Try flushing your bladder with saline as well. Saline helps clean your bladder by flushing out sediment or toxins that may be causing stones/UTIs.
Pressure sores are another common secondary effect of living with paralysis. Many people will have pressure sores on their buttocks from sitting in their wheelchair or laying in their beds for long periods. To prevent pressure sores, make sure to get proper seating for your wheelchair and the right mattress/pillows for positioning for your bed.
There are dozens of different questions and mattress options available. It is best to speak with a physical and occupational therapist for their recommendations. Many people will either use a Roho or a Jay cushion for their wheelchair cushion. Another option is to get customized seating, which is done at the seating clinic in a rehabilitation center.
When in bed, many people will have an alternating pressure mattress to help with pressure relief. Other people will use cushions to change their position throughout the night. You’ll want to consult a physical therapist for the best option for you and your injury level.
And lastly, make sure to check your skin on a regular basis each night for any red areas. Make sure to check all over your body as well. If you do not have a caregiver, ask a friend or family member to help.
If you ask anyone with paralysis, spasms are one of the most annoying side effects of living with a spinal cord injury. The good news is that they can be easily prevented. Many people will take the drug Baclofen to lessen their leg spasms. Others will take medical cannabis to prevent spasms.
And don’t forget to do range of motion twice a day. Stretching your legs and arms on a regular basis can greatly help prevent spasticity. Make sure to turn onto your stomach as well to stretch your abdominal and hip flexor muscles. Many people report that stretching these muscles can do a lot in preventing leg spasms. Vibration therapy (available in activity-based rehab centers) can also prevent spasticity.
After years of not walking, many people’s bones will have osteoporosis. Bone density retention is critical. There are calcium supplements that can help prevent osteoporosis, but they can only do so much. Note: Calcium supplements can be difficult to absorb in people with paralysis, causing bladder stones and constipation. Popular calcium supplements used are calcium carbonate or calcium citrate.
In addition to calcium supplements, don’t forget Vitamin D. Just 5 minutes of sunshine each day can do a lot, but most spinal cord injury doctors recommend taking high doses of Vitamin D. Two other drugs can also help keep bones strong after a spinal cord injury – biophosphates – and the second drug is a synthetic hormone supplement called Forteo, AKA teriparatide.
Doctors also say that standing at least 1 hour a day is required to prevent osteoporosis. Another way to retain bone density is by using FES, aka functional electronic stimulation. Many people will use FES to peddle a sitting bicycle. FES bicycles for people with spinal cord injuries are available for purchase. People will use their FES bike on a daily basis to successfully lessen osteoporosis.
And to see if osteoporosis is present in your bones, you can get a DexaScan. Most spinal cord injury doctors recommend getting a DexaScan once a year.
One of the most difficult side effects of paralysis is pain, and it can be very difficult to treat. Neuropathic pain, which doctors believe is caused by the misfiring of nerves after a spinal cord injury, can be life-limiting. Gabapentin is a common drug taken for this pain post-SCI. Other drugs that help SCI-related pain include muscle relaxers, antidepressants and anti-inflammatory drugs.
Additionally, therapeutic massage, exercise, distraction methods, acupuncture, TENS treatments, psychological treatments like self-hypnosis and cognitive restructuring and relaxation techniques have all been used to treat pain after a spinal cord injury. Counseling can also help with managing pain.
Counseling, exercise, and antidepressants all help prevent pain after paralysis. Experiencing such a life-changing experience like a spinal cord injury can cause depression in many.
Mental health professionals should be consulted whenever you think you are experiencing depression as well. Signs of depression include changes in sleep, feeling down or hopeless, a loss of interest or pleasure in activities, changes in appetite, diminished energy or activity, difficulty concentrating and thoughts of death or suicide.
And finally, do not use drugs or alcohol to treat depression. These will only mask your feelings and not help you improve. Even worse, both can lead to additional negative side-effects.