An accident that results in paralysis is a life-changing event. Suddenly having a disability can be frightening and confusing, and adapting is no easy task. You may wonder how your spinal cord injury will affect your everyday activities, job, relationships and long-term happiness.
Recovery from such an event takes time, but many people who are paralyzed move on to lead productive and fulfilling lives. It's essential to stay motivated and get the support you need.
If you're newly injured, you and your family will likely experience a period of mourning and grief. Although the grieving process is different for everyone, it's common to experience denial or disbelief, followed by sadness, anger, bargaining and, finally, acceptance.
The grieving process is a common, healthy part of your recovery. It's natural — and important — to grieve the loss of the way you were. But it's also necessary to set new goals and find a way to move forward with your life.
You'll probably have concerns about how your injury will affect your lifestyle, your financial situation and your relationships. Grieving and emotional stress are normal and common. However, if your grief and sadness are affecting your care, causing you to isolate yourself from others, or prompting you to abuse alcohol or other drugs, you may want to consider talking to a social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist. Or, you might find a support group of people with spinal cord injuries helpful. Talking with others who understand what you're going through can be encouraging, and members of the group may have good advice on adapting areas of your home or work space to better accommodate your current needs. Ask your doctor or rehabilitation specialist if there are any support groups in your area.
One of the best ways to regain control of your life is to educate yourself about your injury and your options for reclaiming an independent life. A range of driving equipment and vehicle modifications is available today. The same is true of home modification products. Ramps, wider doors, special sinks, grab bars and easy-to-turn doorknobs make it possible for you to live more autonomously.
Because the costs of a spinal cord injury can be overwhelming, you may want to find out if you're eligible for economic assistance or support services from the state or federal government or from charitable organizations. Your rehabilitation team can help you identify resources in your area.
Talking about your disability
Your friends and family may respond to your disability in different ways. Some may be uncomfortable and unsure if they're saying or doing the right thing.
Being educated about your spinal cord injury and willing to educate others is helpful. Children are naturally curious and sometimes adjust rather quickly if their questions are answered in a clear, straightforward way. Adults can also benefit from learning the facts. Explain the effects of your injury and what your family and friends can do to help. At the same time, don't hesitate to tell friends and loved ones when they're helping too much. Although it may be uncomfortable at first, talking about your injury often strengthens your relationships with family and friends.
Dealing with intimacy, sexuality and sexual activity
Your spinal cord injury may affect your body's response to sexual stimuli. However, you're a sexual being with sexual desires. A fulfilling emotional and physical relationship is possible, but requires communication, experimentation and patience. A professional counselor can help you and your partner communicate your needs and feelings. Your doctor can provide the medical information you need regarding sexual health. You can have a satisfying future complete with intimacy and sexual pleasure.
By nature, a spinal cord injury has a sudden impact on your life and the lives of those closest to you. When you first hear your diagnosis, you may start making a mental list of all of the things you can't do anymore. However, as you learn more about your injury and your treatment options, you may be surprised by all you can do.
Thanks to new technologies, treatments and devices, people with a spinal cord injury play basketball and participate in track meets. They paint and take photographs. They get married, have and raise children, and have rewarding jobs.
Today, advances in stem cell research and nerve cell regeneration give hope for a greater recovery for people with spinal cord injuries. At the same time, new medications are being investigated for people with long-standing spinal cord injuries. No one knows when new treatments will be available, but you can remain hopeful about the future of spinal cord research while living your life to the fullest today.
Oct. 22, 2011
- Spinal cord injury: Hope through research. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/sci/detail_sci.htm. Accessed June 28, 2011.
- Spinal trauma. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merck.com/mmpe/print/sec21/ch311/ch311a.html. Accessed June 28, 2011.
- Spinal cord injury facts. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. http://www.aans.org/Patient%20Information/Fact%20Sheets.aspx. Accessed June 28, 2011.
- Hansebout RR, et al. Acute traumatic spinal cord injury. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed June 21, 2011.
- Spinal cord injury (SCI): Prevention tips. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/factsheets/sciprevention.htm. Accessed June 28, 2011.
- Spinal cord injury acts and figures at a glance. National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center. www.nscisc.uab.edu/public_content/pdf/Facts%202011%20Feb%20Final.pdf. Accessed June 28, 2011.
- Revel SMH. Symptom clusters in traumatic spinal cord injury: An exploratory literature review. Journal of Neuroscience Nursing. 2011;43:85.
- Abrams GM, et al. Chronic complications of spinal cord injury. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed June 21, 2011.
- Fouad K, et al. Spinal cord injury and plasticity: Opportunities and challenges. Brain Research Bulletin. 2011;84:337.
- Van den Berg MEL, et al. Survival after spinal cord injury: A systematic review. Journal of Neurotrauma. 2010;27:1517.
- Marsh BC, et al. Movement rehabilitation after spinal cord injuries: Emerging concepts and future directions. Brain Research Bulletin. 2011;84:327.
- Fast facts: Spinal cord injury. ThinkFirst National Injury Prevention Foundation. http://www.thinkfirst.org/About/Facts.asp. Accessed July 1, 2011.
- Emken JL, et al. Feasibility of manual teach-and-replay and continuous impedance shaping for robotic locomotor training following spinal cord injury. Transactions on Biomedical Engineering. 2008;55:322.