How will you react after a spinal cord injury?

When you experience an SCI, it is normal to have many emotional reactions. Family and friends may also have these same emotional reactions. These emotions may occur at different times. Some emotions a person may experience are:

Panic and fear

One of the first reactions after an SCI is panic and fear. Fears are intense because you, as well as your family, may be worried that you may not survive. Until you become medically stable, physical and emotional feelings of panic may continue. Some of your physical symptoms may be:

  • Fast breathing
  • Not able to sleep
  • Decreased appetite
  • Upset stomach
  • Crying uncontrollably

Shock and denial

You may feel that what is happening is not real. You may notice things going on around you, but have trouble remembering information. You may also have a hard time understanding the seriousness of the injury.


You may feel angry that you are in this situation. This may be justified. You may be angry with family members, friends, or others involved in the accident. On the other hand, your family may be angry that you put yourself in a situation where you could be hurt. You may be upset with the health care team for not doing or saying what you think is right. This is a normal reaction, and it is okay to have these feelings.


Guilt is a very normal feeling during this time. You may feel you could have done something to prevent the accident, even when this is far from true. Your family may also think about past events and personal experiences that they wish could have been different or better. Family or friends may feel upset or angry with you; then they may also feel guilty about having those feelings. This too is normal. We encourage you to talk about your feelings.


During this time you may feel distant from others. You may have a hard time relating to others. You may think that others will not understand. You may also think others are scared or do not approve of your feelings. As a result, you isolate yourself. However, during a crisis, such as an SCI, it is helpful to accept comfort, support, and assistance from others.


As you start to stabilize, anxiety about survival will be combined with hope of recovery. Medical complications and slow recovery may cause more anxiety. However, hope may be brought about by the smallest changes.

When you experience any of these emotions, know they are normal reactions to a very stressful situation. You may find it helpful to talk about your feelings with friends, family, clergy, or the health care team (See the Communication section). It may also be useful to write about your feelings and experiences in a journal.

Last reviewed: 
March 2018

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