Wheelchair Fitness Solution™ Facts & Stats

Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) – FAQ’s

What is spinal cord injury?

Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) is damage to the spinal cord that results in a loss of function such as mobility or feeling. Frequent causes of damage are trauma (e.g. car accident, gunshot, falls, etc) or disease (polio, spina bifida, Friedreich’s Ataxia, etc.). The spinal cord does not have to be severed in order for a loss of functioning to occur. In fact, in most people with SCI, the spinal cord is intact, but the damage to it results in loss of functioning. SCI is very different from back injuries such as ruptured disks, spinal stenosis, or pinched nerves.

 

What are the effects of SCI?

The effects of SCI depend on the type and level (severity) of the injury. SCI can be divided in to two types of injury – complete and incomplete. A complete injury means that there is no function below the level of the injury; no sensation and no voluntary movement. Both sides of the body are equally affected. An incomplete injury means that there is some functioning below the primary level of the injury. A person with an incomplete injury may be able to move one limp more than another, may be able to feel parts of the body that cannot be moved, or may have more functioning on one side of the body than the other. With the advances in acute treatment of SCI, incomplete injuries are becoming more common.

 

How many people have SCI?

Approximately 450,000 people live with SCI in the US. There are about 10,000 new SCI’s every year; the majority of them (82%) involved males between the ages of 16-30. These injuries result from motor vehicle accidents (36%), violence (28.9%), or falls (21/2%). Quadriplegia is slightly more common than paraplegia.

 

Is there a cure for Spinal Cord Injury?

Currently, there is no cure for SCI. There are many researchers attacking this problem and there have been many advances in the lab (see our future research updates). Many of the most exciting advances have resulted in a decrease in damage at the time of the injury. Steroid drugs such as methylprednisolone reduce swelling, which is a common cause of secondary damage at the time of injury.

With many injuries, especially incomplete injuries, the individual may recover some functioning as late as 18 months (or more) after the injury. In very rare cases, people with SCI will regain some functioning years after the injury. However, only a very small fraction of individuals sustaining SCIs recover all functionality. Physical rehabilitation and activity is often recommended for those looking to improve their overall health when dealing with SCI.

 

Does everyone with a Spinal Cord Injury use a wheelchair?

No. Wheelchairs are simply a tool for mobility. High C-level injuries usually require that the individual use a power wheelchair. Low C-level injuries and below usually allow the person to use a manual chair. Advantages of manual chairs are that they cost less, weigh less, disassemble into smaller pieces and are more agile for navigating various environments.  However, for the person who needs a power chair, the independence afforded by them is worth the limitations. Some people are able to use braces and crutches for ambulation. These methods of mobility do not mean that the person will never use a wheelchair. Many people who use braces still find wheelchairs more useful for longer distances. However, the therapeutic and activity levels allowed by standing or walking briefly may make braces a reasonable alternative for some people.

Of course, people who use wheelchairs aren’t always in them. They drive, swim, fly planes, ski and participate in many other activities out of their chair. If you hang around people who use wheelchairs long enough, you may see them sitting in the grass pulling weeds, sitting on your couch or playing on the floor with children or pets. And of course, people who use wheelchairs don’t sleep in them. They sleep in a bed. No one is “wheelchair bound”.

 

(Facts provided by the Spinal Cord Injury Resource Center)

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