How to Regulate Your Temperature After a Spinal Cord Injury

June 05,2022 |
Wheelchair user and friend exercising.

Spinal cord injuries (SCI) are a classification of injuries that affect the spine. When these injuries occur, one or more parts of the spinal cord and associated nerve become damaged. This causes a disruption between the brain and various parts of your body. Depending on the location of an SCI, individuals may lose sensation, experience varying degrees of paralysis, and lose control of certain bodily functions. One of these functions is thermoregulation. Thermoregulation refers to the natural process that helps your body maintain optimal, internal core temperature. For a healthy individual, this is between 98° Fahrenheit (37° Celsius) and 100° F (37.8° C). If temperatures fall above or below this range, further complications can occur. To help keep your body functioning properly, here’s more information on how to regulate your temperature after a spinal cord injury.


The Impact of a Spinal Cord Injury on Temperature Regulation

While slight fluctuations in your body temperature are normal throughout the day, the location of the spinal cord injury may make it more difficult for your body to cool off or warm up as needed. This is because SCIs create problems with neural messages and overall bodily sensations.

Your body is designed to naturally cool down and warm up as needed. When you’re hot, you produce sweat to release excess heat. When you’re cold, your skin forms goosebumps and you begin to shiver in an effort to conserve heat and warm up. This is, in part, supported by the hypothalamus, which helps send signals to corresponding areas within your body.

In individuals who experience spinal cord injuries, problems with temperature regulation, also referred to as thermoregulation, occur. Since your body’s nerves don’t pick up changes in temperature, the efficiency of autonomous, internal regulations is reduced. You may not realize that you’re hot or cold and therefore, your body won’t sweat or shiver—respectively—in response.

As a result, improper thermoregulation can lead to either hypothermia or hyperthermia, both of which can be extremely dangerous. 


SCI Factors that Affect Body Temperature

For a better understanding of how to regulate your temperature with a spinal cord injury, it’s important to consider some of the factors that can contribute to this issue.


  • Location of Injury – the higher the location of the injury, the more likely you are to experience challenges with temperature regulation.


  • Severity of Injury – the more severe your spinal cord injury is, the greater the difficulty of thermoregulation will be. This is especially true for individuals with complete SCIs. If you have an incomplete spinal cord injury, you may be able to have some degree of thermoregulation depending on its location.


  • External Temperatures – one of the easiest ways to control changes to your body temperature is to be mindful of your environment. If you’re in extreme temperatures, you should anticipate changes to internal temperatures and dress appropriate or stay out of the sun.


  • Blood Flow – your overall blood flow in general can also impact your ability to efficiently regulate body temperature. Blood vessels contract or expand based on your temperature to help the body cool off or warm up. SCI can impact blood flow and cause challenges with thermoregulation.


  • Exercise – exercising will inevitably raise your body temperature. While exercising with a spinal cord injury is important for ongoing mobility and independence, be mindful, drink plenty of water, and always work with a certified physical therapist to ensure you’re being safe.


  • Emotional State – if your emotions are running hot, there’s a chance your body is as well. Stress hormones can impact your internal temperature, so do what you can to stay relaxed and treat anxiety as needed.


Living with a Spinal Cord Injury: How to Regulate Temperature

Living with a spinal cord injury means that you have to be particularly cognizant of your environment. Doing so is the best way to manage your body temperature and avoid serious complications that are associated with hypothermia and hyperthermia.

If, at any moment, you expect that your temperature is either too high or too low, get out of your environment and go into a more stable area. This will likely mean going inside to a temperature regulated room. In some conditions, you may need to remove articles of clothing or add them accordingly. Pay special attention to subtle symptoms that can indicate issues and take action immediately if you feel like you can’t stabilize your temperature. Some of the best ways to either cool down or warm up include the following:

Cooling Down

In hot, summer weather, it’s important to watch for signs that may indicate you’re overheating. These commonly include dizziness, a headache, or even nausea. Your skin may become flushed and red and can feel hot to the touch. To help your body cool down, make sure that you remain properly hydrated throughout the day and consider carrying a wet cloth or towel to use as needed. You can also ensure your body remains cool by wearing lighter clothing and avoiding direct sunlight for extended periods of time. Make sure that you have access to a cool environment if needed and whenever possible, position yourself in front of a fan after extended periods of being exposed to high temperatures. If you’re exercising, make sure that the room is properly ventilated, and air flow is efficient. However, you should avoid relying on ice packs as they can cause burns on your skin if they’re not used appropriately.

Warming Up

Cold weather may cause an individual with a spinal cord injury to feel an overall sense of chill. In extreme temperatures, you may even notice that your teeth begin to chatter. Individuals with incomplete spinal cord injuries may also notice that part of their body begins to shiver. If any of these occur, take the proper steps to help warm yourself up. These can include adding layers of warm clothing, taking a warm shower or bath, or making yourself a warm beverage. Some other options include moving to a warmer environment, sitting in front of a fire, or even engaging in small exercises to help increase blood flow and internal temperatures. 

Depending on the severity of challenges with your thermoregulation, you may want to invest in an electric blanket to use in case of emergencies. This can help reduce your risk of hypothermia during extreme circumstances.


When to See a Doctor

The degree in which individuals with a spinal cord injury suffer from temperature regulation varies. Some people may have no problem with this, while others have to be extremely aware of subtle cues that indicate temperature problems. Regardless, it’s important to recognize signs that indicate you need medical attention.


Hypothermia is a medical emergency that’s caused by prolonged periods of exposure to cold temperatures. This can reduce your body’s ability to function as a whole and can be fatal when not addressed in a timely manner. Severe hypothermia may result in unconsciousness and long-lasting complications, so keep an eye out for any signs of this emergency and seek help immediately.

Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion, fatigue, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, drowsiness, and a loss of consciousness.


Hyperthermia isn’t as discussed as hypothermia, but it’s just as dangerous. This occurs when body temperatures reach abnormally high levels, and can occur in various forms including heat cramps, heat illness, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke. These are all designated by their severity but should be addressed quickly to reduce problems and ensure healthy bodily functions.

Symptoms of hyperthermia include muscle cramps, high temperature, skin irritations, blurred vision, dizziness, increased heart rate, fatigue, headache, light-headedness, fainting, low blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, weakness, balance problems, delirium, hot, flushed skin or very pale skin, seizures, and coma.

Seek medical attention immediately if you or a loved one experience any of the above symptoms of hypothermia or hyperthermia. To help those who have been afflicted by a spinal cord injury navigate through their lives as independently as possible, Byram Healthcare offers a wide range of urology supplies such as catheters and incontinence care. Browse our products today and have them discreetly delivered at your door—most orders ship within 2-3 days.

Byram Healthcare is a proud sponsor of the United Spinal Association which is dedicated to empowering people with spinal cord injuries and disorders. We are also a member of the National Association for Continence’s Trusted Partners Program, whose mission is to provide quality continence care through education, collaboration and advocacy. We continue to build partnerships in the clinical community to ensure we focus on what’s best for the patient.