Spinal Cord Injury FAQs

180 medical staff in wheelchairsAt 180 Medical, we like to do all we can to make sure our customers have all of the information they need about their catheter supplies as well as their condition. Today, we’re going over a few of the most frequently asked questions about living with a SCI (spinal cord injury).

Why am I in pain?

Most people think that spinal cord injuries cause only sensory loss and paralysis, but it’s not abnormal to experience pain and spasms after you sustain a spinal cord injury. In fact, it’s estimated that over half of all people living with a SCI experience pain. Damage to the inhibitory systems of the spinal cord and reorganization of the spinal cord circuitry can lead to increased excitability, which leads to spasms as well as the presence of spontaneous pain.

Why do my legs feel like they are in water?

Our sensory systems are not just conduits for sensations from the periphery to our brains. The brain and the spinal cord are constantly filtering signals. For example, we accommodate rapidly to sensations, so that we can ignore constant sensory input, such as those resulting from clothing and shoes. At the same time, we also increase sensitivity. For instance, have you ever wondered why people are ticklish? The slightest touch (even imaginary touches can produce strong sensory responses.

Spinal cord injuries can damage not only the sensory connections, but also the pathways that control one’s sensory threshold, which can lead to abnormal sensations, such as the legs feeling like they are underwater.

Why do my hands and feet swell?

The spinal cord is a big part of controlling blood flow in the limbs. Normally, when a person stands up, the blood vessels in the legs constrict to keep all the blood from pooling in the legs. Likewise, muscle activity squeezes the veins so that the blood is pushed up the veins, which have valves that prevent the blood from running backwards. This pumping action moves blood back into the body.

These normal vascular reflexes can often be impaired after sustaining a spinal cord injury. Support hose and other accessories and devices can help move fluid from the limbs. We suggest discussing these issues with your healthcare professional.

Why do my joints ache?

Aching in various joints of the body can be pretty common after a spinal cord injury, and sometimes this is due to overuse or over-exercising certain parts of the body. Wrist and shoulder pain, for
example, is fairly common in people who use manual wheelchairs. While a spinal cord injury can cause neuropathic pain that may be centered on the wrists, it is important to rule out other potential causes of such pain before concluding that it is due to spinal cord injury. It’s always best to discuss these issues with your doctor.

Why is my bladder no longer working right?

Urinary and bowel issues are not uncommon after a spinal cord injury. Spinal cord injuries often damage the nerves that control the bladder and bowels. Sometimes, this results in an excitable or spastic bladder, or the bladder may be fully retentive.

A normal reflex of the bladder is to expand when it is filled with urine, and then when you are ready to use the bathroom, the sphincter of the bladder relaxes to allow the urine to flow out.

With a spinal cord injury, the bladder may be full, but the sphincter does not relax. If the urine isn’t drained, this can cause the pressure inside the bladder to rise, which can even force urine to go back up into the ureters, which are the tubes that flow from the kidneys into the bladder.

A bladder that cannot release urine normally on its own can cause infections and complications, so one option to treat this issue is intermittent catheterization. During intermittent catheterization, a sterile catheter is inserted (most typically through the urethra or a surgically-created stoma) to drain the bladder. Once finished, the catheter can be disposed of.

Because Foley catheters, also known as indwelling catheters, stay placed in the bladder for long periods of time, this may cause urinary tract and bladder infections.

Using sterile intermittent catheters may be the right approach, depending on your individual anatomy and condition, as well as the severity of your spinal cord injury. Your doctor will be able to advise you on what will work best for your needs.

Todd Brown, 180 Medical’s founder, lives with a spinal cord injury, and it was always a goal of his to make sure 180 Medical is a great resource for anyone needing to use catheters due to their spinal cord injury.

Questions about catheter products? Contact us today!

Call Toll-Free (877) 688-2729

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About the Author
Trish Eklund has worked as an Office Coordinator for 180 Medical for 8 years. When she is not at work, she enjoys writing, photography, reading, and spending time with her family.

(Photo by Don Shepard)