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Skin Care for Spinal Cord Injury Patients

UPMC Content 3

Skin is your body’s largest organ.

It serves as an important protection device for the body and plays a role in:

  • Sensation
  • Fluid regulation
  • Temperature regulation

Your skin is affected in many different ways after a spinal cord injury.

You may:

  • Have decreased or no sensation
  • Sweat more or less in different areas
  • Swell because there is no voluntary muscle action below the level of the injury

Things That Affect Your Skin

  • Nutrition: What you eat can affect your skin. Vitamins A, C, E, and B6 are necessary for skin development and maintenance. You can get them from vitamin supplements, but it's also important to eat a healthy and balanced diet.
  • Weight: Staying at an appropriate weight can help lower the risk for skin breakdown. Ask your health care team, which may include a nutritionist, what your appropriate weight is and how you can maintain it.
  • Shearing: Shearing happens when two layers of skin are pulled in opposite directions, often when you slip down — either in a wheelchair or in bed. It can lead to skin breakdown and skin tears, and increases your risk of getting pressure sores.
  • Friction: Friction happens when there is constant rubbing or pulling on the skin when you drag any part of your body across a surface. This can create blisters. Spasms also can cause friction.

Potential Hazards to Skin

  • Hot and cold extremes: May cause damage to the skin, and you might not notice an immediate reaction because of the loss of skin sensation.
  • Alcohol abuse: Can interfere with proper cell reproduction.
  • Moisture: Moist skin is more prone to breakdowns.
  • Edema or swelling: When tissues are too swollen, it's hard to get oxygen and nutrients to the skin cells. This increases the chances of having the skin break down.
  • Diabetes: High blood sugar slows the healing process.
  • Sun: You will still be at risk for sunburn, like any person with or without a spinal cord injury.

Preventing Injury

It is important to take steps to help prevent injury:

  • Always be aware of how close you are to possible hazards.
  • Be careful not to bump into things when you are transferring from one location to another, or when you are moving around.
  • Do not try to do new maneuvers in your wheelchair until you have been trained to do them.
  • Do not sleep in the wheelchair.
  • Do not sit too close to fires or space heaters
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