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Spinal Cord Injury and Functional Ability

Spinal cord injury (SCI) functional ability levels can change over time and require varying types of assistive technology along the way.

Individuals may be able to regain enough function to achieve greater independence. This depends on the level of injury and the amount of success with rehabilitation. This article will walk you through everything you need to know about SCI and functional ability by covering the following main topics:

How Does a Spinal Cord Injury Affect the Body?

The spinal cord allows the body to move. It controls blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature. The spinal cord can sense the position of arms and legs, feel variations in temperature, vibration, and sensations. Additionally, it can control bodily functions, such as breathing, bladder, and bowel movements.

The level of effect on function will depend on the level of injury and success with spinal cord injury rehabilitation.

Levels of Spinal Cord Injury

High-Cervical Nerves

Vertebrae are grouped into sections. The higher the injury on the spinal cord, the more complications can occur. Damage to the High-Cervical Nerves, including the first four vertebrae of the spine, results in the most severe of spinal cord injuries.

Patients suffering this high level of injury experience a high degree of paraplegia; this is commonly known as a high-quad. They will need support to perform daily tasks such as dressing and getting around. Patients may not be able to breathe on their own, cough, or control bowel or bladder movements.

Spinal Cord Injury - Spine Anatomy Diagram

A manual wheelchair is not an option for a high-quad because they no longer have the use of their arms to propel it, but a power wheelchair can greatly increase mobility and independence because they generally offer head-control options, including breath control or remote control for attendants.

Low-Cervical Nerves

Low-Cervical Nerves include the 5th-8th vertebrae of the spine and the corresponding nerves control movement of the arms and hands. Quadriplegics at this range are known as mid-level or low-level quads depending on which specific vertebrae are affected.

A person with this level of injury may be able to breathe on their own and speak normally. However, they can experience decreased breathing ability depending on the level of injury incurred by the diaphragm.

A patient with damage to their low cervical nerves is likely to have some or total paralysis. This can occur in the wrist, hands, trunk, and lower body. On top of that, there can be limited mobility of arms including elbow and shoulder movement. If the arms are paralyzed, this would also be considered high-quad.

An individual with this kind of spinal cord injury will need assistance with most activities of daily living. But once in a power wheelchair with the proper controls to suit their requirements, they can move from one place to another independently.

Thoracic Vertebrae

Thoracic vertebrae are located in the mid-back and corresponding nerves affect muscles, upper chest, mid-back, and abdominal muscles.

An individual with damage to this area of their spinal cord will usually have normal hand and arm function. However, it is likely there will be decreased mobility or paraplegia of the trunk and lower limbs.

An individual with a spinal cord injury to the thoracic vertebrae can often use a manual wheelchair as adaptive equipment. Usually, they respond quite favorably to rehabilitation conducted in a clinical setting. They may also stand in a standing frame, and in the instance of a more complete recovery, learn to walk with braces.

Some individuals with a spinal cord injury to the thoracic vertebrae can result in little to no voluntary control of bowel or bladder. However, they can manage on their own to be more independent with special adaptive equipment. A manual wheelchair is sometimes an option though a power chair can make autonomy easier – as well as allow for more positions to improve muscle tone and circulation.

Lumbar Nerves

Lumbar nerves are related to the last five vertebrae of the spine and the sacrum.

Individuals with spinal cord injuries to the lumbar nerves generally experience some loss of function in the hips and legs. There can be injuries to surrounding muscles, little or no voluntary control of the bowel or bladder. But usually, they can manage on their own with special equipment. Depending on strength in the lower body, they may need a manual or power wheelchair but may also learn to walk with braces.

Spinal cord injury to the lower section of the spinal cord and resulting muscle weakness may require support with transfers and have functions limited. This is to be expected with the complications associated with this level of spinal cord injury.

You can learn more about the specific levels of spinal cord injury at spinalinjury101.org.

Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation

Early treatment is important to prevent the loss of muscle strength, conserve bone density, and ensure a functional respiratory and digestive system.

Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation

Rehab to increase recovery can be a long process. Physical exercises may be required to increase the strength of muscles. Additionally, finding and visiting a variety of medical professionals may ensure the most complete recovery.

Medical providers may support the patient by encouraging them to:

  • Perform strength training
  • Cardiovascular exercise
  • Respiratory conditioning
  • Mobility training, and stretching

Rehabilitation Programs

However, it’s important to consider that a rehabilitation program that focuses solely on muscles and muscle function is incomplete. There is a requirement to provide psychological support for patients. An upper-level clinical program will go beyond the physical injuries sustained by the patient and focus on treating the individual as a whole.

As muscles become stronger and increase in function, mobility improves and patients can better function and reduce the risk of further injuries. Good mental health support and a positive outlook can greatly improve the physical benefits received from rehab programs.

Do You Need More than a Manual Wheelchair?

A spinal cord injury that results in limited mobility of the shoulder, elbow, wrist, or corresponding muscle groups will inhibit an individuals’ ability to push a manual wheelchair.

Thankfully, the support of a power wheelchair with easy-to-use joystick control options, along with varying positional functions and a dependable motor, can do so much more than just improve mobility.

With a Redman Power Chair, patients can experience pressure relief, decreased hypotension/hypertension, increased circulation and muscle tone, and all-around improved health. With such a variety of functions, a Redman Power Chair can even hasten recovery and provide more complete independence.

Functional Need for a Power Wheelchair

The ability to use a manual or power wheelchair following a spinal cord injury will depend on the completeness of the injury. This can include:

Close-Up of Manual Wheelchair
  • The patient’s age, height, and weight
  • Pre-injury level of function and health
  • Past medical history and co-morbidities
  • Motivation and sense of Self and well-being
  • Other concurrent injuries and illness

There are many variables to consider when faced with an individual’s spinal cord injury. It’s important to choose the wheelchair that will allow the patient the most functional mobility possible.

“Functional” can mean many things… Are they able to comfortably rest their head on their wheelchair? Can they use their wheelchair to get themselves in or out of bed? Can they maneuver their body in a way that allows for increased rest and recovery?

It is a good idea to discuss functional needs with your doctor and physical therapist to get a comprehensive list of requirements for your wheelchair.

Why Is Redman the Best Wheelchair for SCI?

Because it is the first-ever standing wheelchair; invented and designed specifically for the high-quadriplegic (tetraplegic) by the people who are true pioneers in the wheelchair and DME industry.

Plus, the Redman Power Chair is more than just a power chair – it is what’s known as a complex rehabilitation chair. Specifically, it is a Multi-Option Group 3 Power Wheelchair and it is the very best in its class.

Rehab chairs augment or replace function while providing support surfaces…this can help build and maintain muscle strength and elasticity along with a variety of other clinical health benefits. The technology offered with a Redman Power Chair can push individuals into the upper tier of what’s possible despite physical limitations.

The Redman Chief 107-ZRx moves intrinsically to mimic your body and offers unique positions – Yoga, Stand & Stretch, Tilt in Space – that no other chair offers. The Redman Power Chair is the only mid-wheel standing chair that elevates, tilts, stands, and reclines using an exclusive counterbalancing system, which provides the user a wide variety of clinical benefits.

To help you obtain this life-changing power chair, our in-house team works directly with your medical providers and insurance companies to find the most cost-effective point possible.

If you are interested in learning more about Redman Power Chair and if it is a good fit for you or a loved one with a spinal cord injury, please don’t hesitate to call us at 800-727-6684.

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