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What is it like to live with paralysis? Spinal cord injury goes far beyond immobility. Complications stem from the loss of muscle mass, recurring skin breakdowns, infections and compromised cardiovascular and respiratory function.

Paralysis - NHS

In many cases, living with paralysis means living without the ability to control bladder, bowel, temperature, and sexual function. These secondary complications of paralysis can dramatically affect health and quality of life. Oftentimes, secondary complications of paralysis can be life-threatening. The University of Louisville maintains a patient registry for individuals who are interested in participating in clinical research studies at the University.

If you are living with paralysis and would like to learn more or be considered as a research participant, please add yourself to the registry. Many people don't know that individuals living with paralysis lose the ability to control functions like bladder or bowel.

When to see your GP

Some may even believe that not being able to walk is the worst part of paralysis. But secondary complications that impair autonomic functions dramatically affect quality of life and independence, as well as cause tremendous medical challenges like infection and pain.


Complications with autonomic functions not only impact health and quality of life — they can add up to considerable costs. To understand the impact of a lack of bowel and bladder function in people living with paralysis, it helps to have an idea of what needs to be done each day to cope with these complications.

A daily "bowel program" becomes part of the routine for individuals living with SCI. The program involves scheduling bowel movements encouraged by mini-enemas, suppositories, and digital stimulation or manual emptying of the bowel.

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This may require in-home assistance. In some cases, individuals may undergo a colostomy procedure — a surgery in which an alternate opening is created for waste to leave the body and be captured in a bag. Most people will need to use a catheter for the purposes of emptying urine.

This takes time each day to maintain, and makes people more susceptible to repeated urinary tract and bladder infections, as well as potential kidney damage.


These complications can result in autonomic dysreflexia AD or systemic infection which can be life-threatening. There is also the distraction of making sure an accessible bathroom is always within reach.

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    Paralyzed with pain: the need for education.

    How is paralysis treated? Some of the rehabilitation treatments used for people with paralysis include: Physical therapy uses treatments such as heat, massage, and exercise to stimulate nerves and muscles.

    Occupational therapy concentrates on ways to perform activities of daily living. Mobility aids include manual and electric wheelchairs and scooters. Supportive devices include braces, canes, and walkers. Assistive technology such as voice-activated computers, lighting systems, and telephones.