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Spinal Cord Injury (SCI): Other FAQs

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Basic information for topics, such as “What is it?” and “How many people are affected?” is available in the Condition Information section. In addition, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that are specific to a certain topic are answered in this section.

How does SCI affect children?

While the number of cases of SCI in children and adolescents is not high relative to other age groups, their medical outcomes may be more negatively affected by an SCI. Few studies performed to date have examined SCI in children and adolescents and many questions remain unanswered. Some of these questions include how having an SCI affects the growth and development of children and adolescents. For example, as young people grow, their bones and bodies grow with them; however, this growth may be altered in children and adolescents with an SCI. In addition, because the trunk support system is less developed in a child compared to an adult, a child with an SCI may have more frequent secondary conditions (e.g., respiratory and bowel/bladder problems). Also, children and adolescents may have a higher risk for a secondary skeletal condition because of skeletal immaturity.1

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How do people adjust to living with SCI?

Paralysis can completely change a person's life. It can be depressing, frightening, and daunting at first to consider how to reengage with previous activities and relationships, such as those involving family, employment, friendships, and recreation/exercise. Even so, a patient with an SCI can develop strong motivation and a good support system for recovery and enjoy a fulfilling and happy life.

While the NICHD conducts studies to examine various aspects of SCI outcomes and quality of life for those affected by SCIs and their families, the manner of adjustment is not currently a focus of the Institute's research on SCIs. However, many other organizations and agencies do focus solely on adjustment and provide information for patients and their families.

Some of these organizations include:

How does SCI affect the rest of the body?

After an SCI, many of the body's functions may change dramatically. The following issues may arise5:

  • Bone loss
  • Obesity
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Pressure ulcers
  • Bladder/bowel disorders
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Changes in sexual and reproductive functions
  • Pain
  • Depression and adjustment to illness

In recent decades, individuals with an SCI have been gaining longer life spans and the importance of understanding the impact of aging on the above issues has become increasingly evident.

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Is there a cure for SCI?

There is no known cure for the loss of nerve tissue associated with an SCI. However, depending on the extent of damage to the spinal tissue, partial or almost complete recovery may occur for some people from 1 week to 6 months after an injury. Other people may experience small improvements for up to 1 year or even longer.

The major developments in the treatment of SCI have been in the areas of rehabilitation and improvement in quality of life. Even though SCI may disrupt one's life, those who have experienced this injury can be taught how to use mechanical and technological devices to provide more independence in terms of mobility, working, interacting with their families, and recreation.6 Additional help can be provided to help people with SCIs manage emotional and sexual issues.

Research is ongoing to treat the various symptoms and problems associated with SCI and to develop therapies that promote the regeneration of nerves. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke supports research to help people with SCI, as do other institutions, including the NICHD.7 This includes research on the four principals of spinal cord repair:

  • Protecting surviving nerve cells from further damage
  • Replacing damaged nerve cells
  • Stimulating the regrowth of axons and targeting their connections appropriately
  • Retraining neural circuits to restore body functions7

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  1. Shriners Hospitals for Children. (n.d.). Spinal Cord Injury. Retrieved July 16, 2012, from http://www.shrinershospitalsforchildren.org/CareAndTreatment/SpinalCord/SpinalCordInjury.aspx External Web Site Policy [top]
  2. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2011). Spinal cord injury. Retrieved May 22, 2012, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/print/spinal-cord-injury/DS00460/DSECTION=all&METHOD=print External Web Site Policy [top]
  3. Anderson, C. J., Vogel, L. C., Chlan, K. M., & Betz, R. R. (2008). Coping with spinal cord injury: Strategies used by adults who sustained their injuries as children or adolescents. Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine, 31(3), 290-296. [top]
  4. Seidel, A. C. (1982). Spinal Cord Injury. In Logigian, M. K. (Ed.), Adult rehabilitation: A team approach for therapists (pp. 325-346). New York: Little, Brown and Company. [top]
  5. National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research (NCMRR), NICHD. (2006, January). Report to the NACHHD Council. Retrieved on June 17, 2013 from http://www.nichd.nih.gov/publications/pubs/Documents/ncmrr_report_online_2006.pdf (PDF - 1.85 MB) [top]
  6. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (n.d.). Spinal Cord and Musculoskeletal Disorders and Assistive Devices (SMAD) Program. http://www.nichd.nih.gov/about/org/ncmrr/SMAD [top]
  7. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2012). Spinal cord injury: Hope through research. Retrieved May 22, 2012, from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/sci/detail_sci.htm [top]

Last Updated Date: 07/30/2013
Last Reviewed Date: 05/28/2013
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