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- Living with Spinal Cord Injuries -

Psychological and Social Issues 

People with spinal cord injuries face not only substantial physical hardship. The psychological and social adjustment to having such a catastrophic, life-changing injury can be equally overwhelming.  A spinal cord injury is one of the most devastating of all traumatic events, and learning to cope with the physical, emotional and social changes these injuries bring takes time, courage and support. 

After a spinal cord injury, many people suffer from feelings of grief and loss.  Losing the ability to walk or use their hands can cause many SCI sufferers to feel hopeless and depressed, and some may even feel suicidal.  It is important that people with spinal cord injuries who feel that they are suffering from depression seek professional psychological help. 

Education and Employment 

Although the Americans with Disabilities Act makes it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities in the workplace, adjusting to employment can still be difficult for people with spinal cord injuries, particularly when the injury is severe. According to the Spinal Cord Injury Information Network, after 10 years of injury 31.9% of persons with paraplegia are employed, while only 24.4% of those with tetraplegia are employed.  It can also be harder for those suffering from SCI to attend school, or to continue their education.   There are more and more schools opening for people with disabilities and many workplaces are becoming more disability-friendly. 

Family and Relationships 

Spinal cord injuries take their toll not only on the lives of people who are injured,  they drastically affect the lives of their loved ones as well.  The cost of living with these disabilities is extremely high, and, depending on the level of injury, a great deal of care and support must be provided to the injured, which can create strain on family relationships.  As a result, divorce levels for people with spinal cord injuries is higher than that of the uninjured population.   Counseling and family services are available to help cope with the strain that spinal cord injuries can cause to a family or relationship. 

For single people with spinal cord injuries, dating and maintaining relationships can be equally difficult, and the likelihood of getting married after their injury is less than for those without injuries.  Many forums and support groups are available to help people with spinal cord injuries deal with these issues, as well as to meet new people. 

Sexuality and Fertility 

For people with SCI, sexuality is another issue they must adjust to.  Spinal cord injuries can restrict sexual positions, limit movement, and possibly reduce sexual pleasure.  Also, fears of failure and lack of sexual confidence can make sex more difficult to enjoy. Most people with SCI do have sexual activity. However, the quality, frequency, satisfaction and enjoyment depends on the level and completeness of the injury.   Other factors that increase sexual satisfaction include the presence of a supporting partner and openness to new sexual techniques.  The biggest areas of sexual frustrations are ejaculatory dysfunction and poor-quality erections. 

Similarly, the question of becoming a parent is a huge issue in people with spinal cord injuries, especially in men, who are far more likely to be suffering from these injuries, and also more likely to have their fertility affected.


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Copyright 2001 Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Genetic Testing
Last modified: 04/02/04