We all know we’re running for those who can’t at 11am UTC on May 5, but what really happens to the body after a spinal cord injury (SCI)?
SCI is one of the most devastating injuries, and it can happen to anyone in a heartbeat. A slip, a bad fall, a car accident, and life changes. Nerve fibers are disrupted and nerve cells at and around the site of injury are destroyed.
Each SCI is as different as the person who has the accident. The higher up the spinal cord is injured, the more bodily functions are affected, and the type of disability depends on how severe and where the spinal cord injury is. Some people are paraplegic, so their paralysis is in the lower torso and lower limbs. Those with tetraplegia are paralyzed from the neck down, so have little or no use of their torso, arms and lower limbs.
SCI is often seen as an extreme-sports thing, but only three percent of spinal cord injuries are a result of extreme activities.
The main causes are accidents in daily life:
Tragically, each year, there are 250,000 more newly injured patients facing life in a wheelchair.
Most people think of spinal cord injury as a condition that means no longer being able to walk. But the condition brings with it multiple health-related complications and limitations on daily life, too.
It’s more than not being able to walk
Without the sensory nerve fibers, the person loses sensations, maybe of touch or being able to tell the difference between hot and cold.
Not being able to feel pain or easily change position can lead to pressure ulcers forming. These injuries to the skin and underlying tissue can take a long time to heal, and, in extreme cases, can lead to wounds that expose bones, tendons and muscles – and even fatal infections.
Without sweat, the body cannot regulate its own temperature; too hot and we get dizzy, find it hard to breathe and maybe even suffer heatstroke. That is a real-life, every-day danger for people living with SCI.
Coughs can be a nuisance, but people living with an injury high on the spinal cord know only too well how important coughing is. A cough clears the respiratory tract and removes anything that blocks the airway. Not being able to do that is scary.
“I tried so hard to cough up the mucus, but … in the end, the mucus had to be suctioned, which is a painful process,” says Wolfgang Illek from Wings for Life.
Painful spasms happen because the brain cannot tell the muscles to relax. The back, legs or arms can all suddenly twitch uncontrollably, which affect the quality of life and may also cause pain.
Most people with a SCI experience bladder and bowel dysfunction – a hidden side of the disability.
“This is the most unpleasant way I am reminded of my spinal cord injury. The fact that I – as an adult – cannot fully control this aspect of my body is a great burden to me,” says ski jumper Lukas Mueller.
So we’re not just running for those who can’t, we’re running for people whose lives have changed radically in a heartbeat. People like Lukas Mueller and Wolfgang Illek , who live every day with the hidden effects of spinal cord injury.
By running, rolling or walking on May 5, either at one of the event locations or using the Wings for Life World Run App, you give hope to millions of people affected globally by SCI.