Appendix I: Self-care after rehabilitation by level of spinal cord injury

Self care after a spinal cord injury

You may have questions about what you will be able to do for yourself in the future. The chart below is a guideline for what most people with a given level of injury will be able to do. Keep in mind that your situation may vary.

  • Dependent means needing someone to help you.
  • Independent means you can do it on your own.
Spinal cord level Feeding Dressing Bladder and bowels Mobility
C1–3 Dependent Dependent Dependent Electronically controlled electric wheelchair. Can use sip and puff or head control.
C4 Dependent Dependent Dependent Same as above and can also use chin switch
C5 Self feeding with setup and use of adaptive equipment Help with upper body dressing; dependent with lower body dressing Dependent Power wheelchair, joystick hand control, high back, seat belt, cushion, removable desk arms
C6 Independent with the use of adaptive equipment Independent with upper body dressing; need help with lower body dressing Dependent Power wheelchair, joystick hand control, high back, seat belt, cushion, removable desk arms, modified van lift, hand controls
C7 Independent with the use of adaptive equipment Potential for independence with the use of adaptive equipment Bladder: Independent to some assistance
Bowel: Some to total assistance
Manual wheelchair, removable desk arms, brake extensions, modified hand rims, modified van with transfer board, hand controls
C8 and below, including: thoracic, lumbar, and sacral Independent Independent Bladder: Independent with intermittent cath. Bowel: Independent with digital stimulation Manual wheelchairs, independent in car, unloading wheelchair, hand controls

Equipment to increase independence after a spinal cord injury

  • Bath bench
  • Button hook
  • Doorknob extension
  • Dressing stick
  • Elastic shoe laces/Velcro
  • Environmental control units (computer that helps to turn on and off equipment, such as nurse call light, TV, radio, and fan)
  • Leg lifter
  • Long handle shoe horn
  • Long handle sponge
  • Raised toilet seat
  • Reacher
Last reviewed: 
March 2018

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