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5 Major Health Risks for People Living with Paralysis

5 Major Health Risks for People Living with Paralysis


Lowered metabolism, lack of proper nutrition, lack of continual, calorie-burning exercise, limited movement, and continual, repetitive overuse of extremities open up the door for health problems beside the spinal cord injury itself. Below are the 5 risks that you need to avoid by staying health:

In a 2007, University of Michigan Health System reported that approximation 60% of those with SCI are overweight or obese. Obesity develops post-SCI (after initial trauma weight loss) due to lean muscle mass decreases, fat increases, and metabolism decreases. Fat increases, particularly below the injury level, and may not make you appear wider, but body composition is changing.

Weight gain can increase aches, pains, and joint problems. Obesity can make movement and transferring more difficult and puts undo pressure on the skin (skin folds can lock in moisture and put SCI persons at a greater risk for pressure sores).


A spinal cord injury puts one at a higher risk of developing diabetes than pre-injury. Muscle mass lost below the injury in addition to weight gain from fat in the whole body alters the body’s metabolism enough to affect how insulin is used by the body.

SCI also may hide some of the symptoms of diabetes like dehydration, excessive urination, extreme thirst, increased appetite, among others. Medications and catheterization may make these harder to recognize.

Diabetes affects circulation in the body and therefore blood flow can be hindered in parts of the body which increases the occurrence of pressure sores and tissue damage. Increased circulatory problems can also lead to heart conditions.


Pressure sores
Compression of skin, loss of muscle tone, and decreased circulation lead to pressure sores. Poor nutrition and lack of movement/weight shifting increases this risk. As persons with SCI age, their skin begins to become even thinner and therefore more susceptible.

Serious sores can lead to autonomic dysreflexia which in turn causes increased blood pressure, headaches, and possibly even more serious conditions like seizure, stroke, and death.


Cardiovascular disease
Cardiovascular disease is prevalent in SCI community due to obesity and slower metabolism. The inability to burn fat while living with SCI in the same ways as able-bodied individuals increases the risk of heart disease.

One study showed how people living with SCI have an exaggerated post-prandial lipemis response — after eating a meal, those with SCI have a longer increase in lipid levels in the blood before they are digested. If lipids are in the blood for an extended period of time, they have a greater chance of being deposited in blood vessel walls and damaging them.


Bone and joint conditions and fractures
One study showed that for those using manual chairs 31%-73% of persons have shoulder pain, and 49%-73% have painful carpal tunnel syndrome as well as develop arm, shoulder, and hand pain.

Some people living with SCI are using arm function for leg use and are at risk for shoulder pain, joint deterioration and rotator cuff tears due to the stress of their extremities.

A 1993 study found that over half of its participants with long-term quadriplegia also had pain in the shoulders; many also in elbows, wrists and hands.

Muscle tightness can develop in the front of the shoulder due to wheelchair pushing. The muscles in the front become shorter and stronger, while the opposing muscles in the posterior shoulder and upper back become longer and weaker. This imbalance is one of the major contributors to shoulder injury and pain.

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