The main effect of SCI is paralysis, but there are other long-term effects as well. The effects of SCI vary between people.
When the spinal cord is injured it cannot transport the brain’s messages throughout the body properly, causing different types of paralysis. Generally, SCI causes some paralysis from the point of injury and below.
Paraplegia involves injury to the spinal cord at chest level or below, causing loss of function in the lower half of the body including the legs and feet.
Quadriplegia or Tetraplegia is caused by injury to the spinal cord above the chest, and affects the arms, hands, legs and torso. People with some types of upper SCI may require a ventilator to breathe, or assistance to speak and communicate.
Not all SCI involves the spinal cord being fully severed (‘complete’ SCI). In ‘incomplete’ SCI, the spinal cord may be crushed or bruised, and some brain signals can still get through. This is why some people with SCI have some feeling or movement in the affected part of their body.
Other effects of spinal cord injury include:
- changes to blood pressure and body temperature
- changes to sexual and reproductive function
- digestive issues, including loss of bladder and bowel control
- breathing difficulties
- pressure sores
- a shooting or burning pain caused by nerve damage (known as neuropathic pain)
- lowered immune function and potentially higher risk of certain cancers
- impact on mental health