Optimal health following a spinal cord injury

Achieving Optimal Health Following a Spinal Cord Injury

An individual who sustains a serious spinal cord injury (SCI) is likely to face many challenges as they seek to recover as much as possible and get back to a normal life.

One of these challenges is how to maintain optimal health. Even if someone is dealing with major issues such as paralysis and many of the secondary conditions that are associated with spinal cord injuries, it’s important to address wellbeing and have a plan moving forward.

The good news is there are plenty of ways in which one can take control of their health and much of it comes down to making the right personal lifestyle choices.

What is Meant by Optimal Health?

Optimal health following a spinal cord injury will mean different things to different people. Someone with a complete cervical SCI may have a completely separate outlook compared to someone who has a partial injury to the lower back.

In it’s purest sense, optimal health is about making the best of what you have. It’s not just about ensuring that physical health is looked after but emotional, social and spiritual health too.

It’s often easier to look after medical health such as medication or physiotherapy than it is to get the right tools in place to deal with one’s wellbeing. This is integral, however, to an individual’s ability to return to a life that is as normal as possible following a spinal cord injury. 

Areas of Health

Man playing sport in a wheelchair

While being diagnosed with a spinal cord injury is devastating, ensuring that the affected individual begins to put a recovery plan in place that targets all aspects of health is vital.

The main areas that people with SCIs need to focus on are:

  • Physical health: This is everything that relates to the individual and their body. It encompasses exercises to improve mobility and a good diet as well as avoiding harmful practices such as smoking or drinking to excess.
  • Emotional/mental health: Oftentimes, we take little care of our mental and emotional health in today’s fast-paced world but it’s an essential thing to consider, particularly for those with an SCI. From dealing with the stress of being newly disabled to maintaining a sense of self-worth, this is just as important as physical health.
  • Social health: Staying in contact with friends and family is also important. Building on relationships, as well as those at work and in the wider world, involves taking constant action to avoid isolation.
  • Spiritual: Everyone has a different view of what spiritual means. For some it’s about having a sense of purpose, others connect it to their faith.
  • Intellectual: Getting the right mental stimulation is important for a whole range of reasons, whether it’s at work, taking on a new hobby or meeting a new challenge. It’s no different when you have an SCI.

How to Achieve Optimal Health After a Spinal Cord Injury

Wheelchair yoga

A lot will depend on who an individual was before they suffered their spinal cord injury. For some, it may simply be ‘business as usual’ albeit with a few adaptations. For others, achieving optimal health might involve significant lifestyle changes.

Physical health can sometimes be the easiest thing to address. It may mean taking more exercise or giving up smoking, for instance. A person could decide to switch to a healthier diet or quit alcohol to improve their health. Exercise might have to be adapted to the SCI. For example, if a person has no movement below the waist, working on upper body strength is one way to get fit.

Emotional and mental health can be a lot more difficult to get right. It’s not unusual to experience a wave of different emotions following an SCI. Some people may need, for example, to learn how to express their emotions better or learn how to manage stress and come to terms with their new situation.

Social health means reaching out to others and perhaps being more open than before the SCI. That can be difficult for some people. Others have a strong network around them and it’s a case of making sure that this connection is maintained.

Spiritual health is so individual that’s it’s difficult to address with a simple to-do list. Some people may take to meditation, others might want to join a support group with like-minded people. It’s important, however, not to disregard this part of life, particularly if the individual is angry or anxious about their future.

Intellectual health is about learning new skills and keeping your brain engaged. That could mean getting reacquainted with the local library or going online to start a new hobby.

There are ways in which an individual with a spinal cord injury can achieve optimal health. It’s not all about how much exercise they get but covers a whole range of spiritual, intellectual and emotional components as well.