Hacks for Getting Dressed After a Spinal Cord Injury

Hacks for Getting Dressed After a Spinal Cord Injury

My name is Steve Kearley, and I’m a Patient Advocate at 180 Medical. I’ve been living with my spinal cord injury for over 30 years. As a quadriplegic, I know firsthand that people new to their injury can face many new challenges. One challenge I’ve learned to tackle is putting on my clothes without help. Over the years, I’ve figured out some helpful techniques for putting on clothes and shoes.

While every individual and their level of injury is different, I’ve created a general rundown of tips that may help! Let’s go over a few of my hacks for getting dressed after a spinal cord injury.

Steve Kearley and his family
Me with my family

Hack 1: Practice and Exercise to Make Getting Dressed with a Spinal Cord Injury Easier

First, to get the best results, practice dressing on your own. Repetition is key. When you’re first starting, you may encounter some frustrating challenges as you go. However, with daily practice, you may begin to conquer those challenges more and more.

Next, I recommend staying as active as you can. Being active is good for everyone, but it’s especially important for those of us living with spinal cord injuries. Also, no matter what your level of injury is, you have options for exercising regularly.

Plus, doing a daily set of range of motion exercises helps. I find that it’s much easier to get dressed with loose, flexible muscles versus tight muscles and heavy legs.

Ultimately, practice and repetition will be your two keys to learning how to get dressed independently after a spinal cord injury.

Steve getting dressed on firm bed
I get dressed on top of my firm bed.

Hack 2: Create a Routine for Dressing and Undressing

One of the top tips for independently getting dressed after a spinal cord injury is to create a routine for yourself. As a C6 complete quadriplegic, I’ve found it’s easiest for me to follow a set routine for dressing and undressing daily.

My routine looks something like this. I shower each night before going to bed. Usually, I get undressed in my wheelchair prior to showering. Before I go to bed, I pick out the clothes I plan to wear the next day, and I place them nearby on my nightstand. Also, I typically go ahead and put on my undershirt, underwear, and socks at night before going to sleep. This is a nice time-saving hack for mornings before work or school.

If I’m planning to wear a dress shirt, I get up, self-catheterize, and put on my dress shirt before getting back on my bed. Then I’ll put on pants and shoes and tuck in my shirt.

Of course, your routine can and probably will be a bit different from mine depending on your schedule and your injury level. For instance, quadriplegics may find it easier to get fully dressed in bed or on a firm gym mat. On the other hand, paraplegics may prefer to get dressed while sitting in their wheelchair. Just go with what works for you, and don’t be afraid to experiment to find a routine that works for you.

Hack 3: Try Using Adaptive Devices for Getting Dressed After a Spinal Cord Injury

Luckily, for those of us with limited hand dexterity, limited movement, or weak grip, having adaptive tools made for putting on clothes can help.

A few of the items you might consider using could include:

  • Button pulls
  • Zipper pulls
  • Putting keyrings on zippers
  • Foam wedges or pull-up loops to help you turn from side-to-side or sit up
  • Reacher or grabber tool
  • Shoehorn
button pull zipper pull adaptive device for getting dressed after a spinal cord injury
This is the button pull I use.

Worried that button-ups and dress shirts aren’t a possibility for you anymore? They just might be with a button pull!

Zipper pulls or putting keyring loops on zippers can also help you pull clothing items open or closed. I use a tool that combines a zipper and button pull function.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is to have finger/thumb loops sewn onto clothing items, such as the back of your socks. This will help you pull them up or down.

Also, try to get pants or jeans with belt loops on them. You can use those by putting your thumb or finger through the belt loop.

Hack 4: Wear Clothes and Shoes in Slightly Larger Sizes Than Normal

Personally, I’ve found that getting shoes and certain clothes in a larger size can really help make getting dressed with a spinal cord injury easier.

Wear shoes that are about a half size larger than you’d normally need. They’ll be much easier to just slip on and off. Also, if your shoes have laces, go ahead and loosely tie them. Then just use superglue in the knot to prevent them from coming untied.

Wear pants or jeans that are about one size bigger in the waist. That extra room really makes it easier to pull your pants over your hips and buttocks.

You may also want to try wearing shirts that are looser without tight collars. You don’t want a shirt that’s going to make it harder to pull on.

If you wear bras, try a front-clasping bra. That will be much easier than having to try and reach behind your back to fasten your bra.

Hack 5: Try Adaptive Clothing

Did you know that some companies make clothing just for people with disabilities? Clothing options may include VELCRO® closures on pants and shirts, stretchy tops and bottoms that pull on easily, and snap-back tops, jackets, and coats.

Just try searching online for adaptive clothing options, and I bet you’ll be surprised to find plenty of options out there! However, many people with spinal cord injuries figure out tricks and tips like mine. Many of us wear clothing that is no different than everyone else’s.

My Dressing Routine with Various Types of Clothing

Lastly, I thought it might be helpful to include a bit more about my routine for dressing.

Button-Up Shirts

It’s easiest for me to put on a button-up dress shirt while sitting in front of a mirror as it is easier to see the buttons and correct buttonholes. I tend to fasten all of the buttons except the ones at the top. This allows me to pull it over my heart, similar to a polo style shirt, before fastening the remainder of the buttons with a button pull.

steve using a button pull to get dressed after spinal cord injury
Using my button pull adaptive tool to get dressed

Pants and Belts

If I plan to wear a belt, I always put the belt through the pant loops before putting on my pants.

Then I get on my bed, spread my legs, and put the pants to about my knee level before feeding one leg through the pant leg. This involves putting my foot through the pant leg and tugging the pant leg using both hands until my foot is all the way through. Then I use the same process for the other leg.

While sitting up, I pull the pants up to my thighs before lying back to get them over my hips. I roll side-to-side as I pull them up.

If I’m putting on pants with belt loops, I put my thumb through the loop to get a good grip. If I’m putting on track pants or sweat pants, I put my hand inside them near the elastic waistband and slip them over my hip. I continue to roll side-to-side doing this process multiple times until the pants are up high enough to waist level in front.

Tucking in Shirts

I find it easier to tuck my shirt in with my legs hanging off the bed. It may work for you in your chair. I lean from one side to the other as I use my hand to push the back of the shirt inside my pants. Next, I just lie back and push the front of the shirt inside my pants.

Jackets and Coats

If I plan to wear a jacket or coat, I tend to use a button pull or zipper pull. I fasten it about halfway before slipping it over my head and shoulder. Then I pull it down while I’m sitting upright in my wheelchair. With my limited hand dexterity, I find it easier to put on quarter-zip sweaters versus full-zip jackets.

Catheterizing with Limited Hand Dexterity

I don’t bother fighting with my zipper when it’s time to self-catheterize. I personally find it’s easier to just cath from the top of my pants. Not everyone can do this, however.

If you’re living with a spinal cord injury, you also have a wide variety of options for catheters for limited hand dexterity at 180 Medical, including the brand new Cure Dextra Closed System Catheter. These can open up a new world of independence for you if you’re ready to learn to self-catheterize.

Contact our friendly specialists to find out more about your insurance-covered catheter options, and get ready to start living a more independent life. It’s not over for you just because of your spinal cord injury.

Call Toll-Free (877) 688-2729

Join the 180 Community

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

About the Author
Jessica is a Marketing Specialist at 180 Medical, and she's been a part of the 180 family for over 11 years. Her favorite part of working at 180 Medical is our commitment to values of compassion and integrity and the positive impact we help make on peoples' lives.

She loves writing, art, gardening, cooking, and spending time with her fiancé and their 3 dogs.