Spinal cord injury fatigue

Spinal Cord Injury Fatigue

One common issue associated with spinal cord injuries (SCI) is fatigue.

It can affect an individual with an SCI regardless of the level of their injury and whether or not the it is classified as complete or incomplete.

Fatigue can manifest in a variety of ways. One might simply feel tired because they have over-exerted themselves or they may experience more targeted muscle fatigue in certain areas because of physiological reasons.

Furthermore, they may be suffering from mental health issues associated with their injury and this can also cause a feeling of energy being drained.

Here we take a closer look at what spinal cord injury fatigue is, why it may occur and how it can be managed.

What is Fatigue?

We all feel tired at some time. With a little rest, most of us tend to boost our energy levels and return to a feeling of normality. With spinal cord injury fatigue, however, that tiredness or weak feeling is directly related to the condition itself and can quickly become chronic in nature.

Research has identified two types of fatigue when it comes to spinal cord injuries:

  • Intrinsic muscle fatigue: This is a sensation of fatigue in specific muscles as a direct result of the injury. It occurs at the same level or below the level of the damage and is caused by biological changes such as loss of motor neurons and biological changes in the muscles. It can be improved by electrical stimulation and, in some cases, physiotherapy.
  • Chronic fatigue: This is a specifically a long-term effect of a spinal cord injury and often has a wide range of causes. It can happen because the muscles of the body are no longer conditioned in the same way they were prior to the injury. There are also psychological effects in the way an individual thinks about their injury which may cause fatigue, such as depression and anxiety. 

Overall, spinal cord injury fatigue doesn’t occur simply because an individual is lazy or has given up. It often has a biological or psychological basis and can certainly be made worse if there is chronic pain that has to be dealt with on a daily basis.

The important thing to remember is that there are plenty of different strategies which can be used to improve fatigue and make it a less of a problem for the individual.

With the right approach, it can be possible to turn things around and improve energy levels, or at least manage instances of fatigue more effectively.

Tips for Managing Fatigue Following a Spinal Cord Injury

Paralyzed lady suffering from fatigue

There are several ways to improve feelings of fatigue but it’s important in the first instance to identify what the problem is and what the individual’s capabilities are.

An individual may have certain triggers that make periods of fatigue more likely. These can include lack of sleep, eating unhealthy foods and doing too many activities. It’s important that individuals with an SCI get the right balance when it comes to sleep, diet and exercise.

The extent of the spinal cord injury also may define the type of strategy that is put in place.

  • Learn to plan the day better: If one understands their relationship with fatigue, it’s easier to plan the day and avoid issues that will drain their energy battery.
  • Reduce physical stress: Using assistive devices that make life easier, for instance, things can help reduce the need to put effort and stress into certain actions that are likely to cause fatigue.
  • Balancing rest and activity: Ideally, the individual wants to use their energy levels well. That means choosing the time to be active and the time to rest wisely.
  • Talk to people: It’s important that the individual is able to communicate their problems concerning fatigue to those around them and make adjustments rather than trying to ‘soldier on’.
  • Hydration and diet: What someone puts into their body is important whether they have an SCI or not. Plenty of water and a good, healthy diet can make a big difference to energy levels.
  • Exercise: As with a healthy diet, getting the right amount of exercise is important in combating fatigue. A lot depends on the spinal cord injury level, but being active can improve fitness and reduce general tiredness. 
  • Travelling: If an individual is heading out on the road, planning the journey beforehand should reduce the risk of getting into situations where fatigue sets in.

It’s essential not to simply put up with spinal cord injury fatigue however it manifests. Finding effective strategies and making changes to daily routines can help to alleviate the symptoms associated with fatigue and ensure the individual has energy for the things that matter most.