Spinal Cord Injury
The spinal cord and its function
The spinal cord is a thick bundle of nerves and tissues that extends from the base of the brain down the length of your back, it is protected by the bones that make up your spine.
The spinal cord is responsible for communicating two-way messages from your brain to your organs, muscles and skin.
Injury to the spinal cord
It is estimated that approximately 2,500 people in the UK have a spinal cord injury (SCI) each year.
When the spinal cord is damaged or injured, some of the messages or impulses may be interrupted which can cause partial or total loss of feeling or movement in parts of your body. It is possible that you may also experience pain.
Usually loss of movement and feeling will occur below the level of the injury, for example an injury to the spinal cord at the neck will cause paralysis to a larger part of your body than an injury to the spinal cord in your lower back. However, it is important to be aware that the loss of sensation and movement will vary from person to person, even with those that have damaged their spinal cord in the same place.
The nature of a spinal cord injury means that as well as the physical impact, there are also emotional and psychological effects on the injured person and their family.
There are a number of charities available for people who have had a spinal cord injury.
Back Up Trust
This is a national UK charity providing support for people with a spinal cord injury.
Examples of support Back Up can give are:
- general support through phone lines or a virtual “Back Up Lounge”
- mentoring for individuals and families
- wheelchair skills,
- support via an app and You Tube channel
- advice for work, children and young people
- courses on work advice, city skills, incomplete walkers
- residential trips to explore outdoor activities.
SIA (Spinal Injuries Association)
This organisation provides support for patients and professionals, advocacy and guidance on a range of issues which might be bewildering. It provides a learning resource with a number of factsheets and training courses. Volunteers and staff are available to speak to those who are newly injured and their families about their spinal cord injury.
They provide support and advice primarily around the following topics:
- independent living,
- welfare benefits,
- access to technology,
- supporting your own fundraising with Your Fund.
In Wales there is a very supportive peer independent living adviser based in Cardiff.
Regain is a smaller niche charity which supports people who have tetraplegia as a result of a sporting accident through offering grants. It is well worth getting in touch with them if this applies to you. Amongst other things, they run very successful fundraising cycle rides for both tetraplegic cyclists and able bodied riders.
Some of the effects of ageing may present additional challenges if you have had a spinal cord injury, therefore being realistic and preparing as much as possible as you age, will enable you to manage the changes as they occur.
Some of the challenges faced by people with a spinal cord injury as they age are:
- Increased risk of shoulder injury – more common in paraplegics and those who self propel or use their arms to transfer
- Complications with bladder and bowel management
- Increased risk of pressure sores and skin damage
- Staying as fit and healthy as possible, by taking part in regular exercise and eating a healthy diet can help you to age well.
Other things may need to be considered in order to help you to manage your day-to-day activities as you age, things such as:
- Changes to your care package or starting a care package to help with your daily needs
- Adaptations to equipment and accommodation
- Back up trust: Myths about ageing with a spinal cord injury
- SIA: Ageing well
Keeping active and exercising is important for everyone. It has vital health benefits, can help you to manage day-to-day activities by keeping stronger and fitter and can improve your well-being.
Scientific researchers have recently put together guidelines to inform people with a spinal cord injury how much exercise is necessary for important fitness and health benefits.
Finding an exercise or activity that you enjoy is key, as you are more likely to continue with something if you enjoy it! Many gyms and leisure facilities have wheelchair accessible equipment. It is worth contacting your local leisure facility to see what they have to offer.
A selection of links to sporting and leisure activities:
The Welsh Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Centre
The Welsh Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Centre is based at the University Hospital Llandough. The Spinal Injuries Unit is one of 12 designated units in the UK. Patients are admitted to the unit from South, Mid and West Wales.
The centre provides in-patient rehabilitation for adults with a spinal cord injury due to various reasons including trauma, medical conditions and post surgical.
Appropriate patients can be referred to the Welsh Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Centre via their consultant via the National Spinal Cord Injury Database.
Patients are admitted to the centre for rehabilitation once they have completed the acute stage of their injury and are ready to take part in an intensive rehabilitation programme which includes:
- Multi-Disciplinary Team rehabilitation from occupational therapists and physiotherapists
- Nursing input including bladder and bowel management and pressure area management
- Medical support from a consultant in rehabilitation medicine
- Psychological support from a clinical psychologist
- Educational events and links to external support agencies