Skin Care After Spinal Cord Injury

April 08,2022 |
Man in a wheelchair typing on his laptop.

Spinal cord injuries (SCI) are severe injuries that require several lifestyle adjustments. Since they result in loss of movement and mobility in varying degrees, individuals affected need additional help to properly care for themselves. While the specific location of injury will determine the degree in which mobility is lost, most individuals will require some type of outside help. The higher the location of the injury, the greater the totality of paralysis. However, there are still ways for those who have experienced an SCI to maintain a sense of individualism. To help with this process, here are a few skin care tips to undergo after a spinal cord injury.


Understanding Your Skin

Your skin is comprised of various levels, each performing a specific job. While we’re used to seeing the epidermis, or the outermost layer, a flurry of cellular activity happens in the dermis. This is a very strong, elastic layer of tissue that’s filled with blood vessels, oil glands, nerve endings, sweat, and hair follicles. Individuals with a spinal cord injury lose the ability to feel anything in certain parts of the body, but the dermis is still working to keep your skin healthy and functioning accordingly.

The epidermis, on the other hand, is your body’s largest organ. It plays a crucial role in protecting your insides from outside threats like illness, bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens. The epidermis also helps control your body temperature, which keeps organs functioning as they should. In order to keep the different layers of your skin healthy, it’s important to support a healthy blood flow, maintain good hygiene, and care for wounds. Unfortunately, this can be more difficult for those living with a spinal cord injury. Due to lack of mobility and decreased range of motion, individuals are at a greater risk of skin-related complications.


Potential Hazards to Your Skin After a Spinal Cord Injury

Although it acts as a protective barrier, your skin is delicate. Cuts, burns, and bruising occurs on everyone when they’re not cautious, but those with spinal cord injuries are prone to unique problems. Pressure ulcers can form from lack of movement, extreme temperatures of water or air that goes unnoticed can create damage to the skin, and irritation can occur from certain products or urologic conditions. Discuss these hazards with your doctor to get a better understanding of what to look for in case complications occur.


Skin Care Tips for Living with a Spinal Cord Injury

In order to avoid problems, take the time to understand what could happen and how to prevent each complication. This means taking into consideration all of the factors that affect your skin while performing daily tasks and making sure that you avoid unnecessary risk. Some of the best skin care tips when living with a spinal cord include the following:

Prioritize a Healthy Diet

Nutrition has a large influence on the overall health of your skin. To fuel your body and encourage healthy cellular regeneration, eat a balanced diet that’s filled with nutritious fruits and vegetables and drink plenty of water. While you can still enjoy foods that you love, a healthy diet is all about moderation. You should be primarily consuming whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, and vitamin E supplements if advised by your doctor. Avoid foods that are high in sugar, as these contribute to cellular breakdown which can harm the skin.

Use the Right Products

Regardless of who you are, having a skin care regimen is a great way to keep your skin hydrated, nourished, and healthy from the outside in. At a bare minimum, find a soap and a moisturizer that doesn’t irritate your skin and keeps everything adequately hydrated. Dry skin is more prone to damage, so using a moisturizer is important for individuals with a SCI. Many people have found that certain essential oils provide calming, yet hydrating benefits that don’t cause problems for those with sensitive skin. Try to avoid things that are overly saturated with chemicals to avoid irritation.

Encourage Circulation

Your skin requires a strong blood flow to keep extremities alive and properly nourished, therefore it’s important to encourage circulation regardless of your mobility. Maintaining a strong blood flow will help your skin receive the oxygen it needs to stay strong and protect you. While this can be difficult, there are additional ways to boost circulation regardless of the degree of paralysis. If you smoke, quit. Smoking drastically reduces circulation throughout your body and can contribute to further problems. Similarly, if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes, taking the steps to reduce levels and manage your condition are essential to maintaining strong circulation. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns regarding circulatory issues.

Relieve Pressure

Staying in the same position for long periods of time can lead to pressure ulcers. While it can be difficult to alleviate pressure of those living with a spinal cord injury, physical therapy can help. Throughout the day, you should be shifting your weight from left to right every 30 minutes. This may require the assistance of a caregiver, friend, or family member, but doing so greatly reduces your risk of ulcers and pressure sores.

Similarly, when laying down, avoid adding pressure to the heels by placing a pillow underneath your feet. If laying on your side, place one leg ahead of your body, one leg behind, and a pillow in between. You can also lay on your stomach as long as you don’t use a feeding tube or have had a tracheotomy.

Move as Much as Possible

Voluntary movement is limited in those with spinal cord injury, especially if paralysis affects all limbs, but it’s still important for skin health. A caregiver can move your limbs externally or, if you have mobility in your arms, you can perform a few exercises. Always work with a professional when exercising with a spinal cord injury to maintain proper form and avoid further damage.

Be Cautious

Try to be careful with your movements to avoid damaging the skin. High levels of friction against the skin, shearing, or even bumping into objects can create avoidable skin ailments. While you don’t need to child-proof corners or wear a layer of bubble wrap, caution goes a long way when promoting healthy skin with a spinal cord injury.

Dress Accordingly

When you go outside, always make sure that you wear sunscreen and protective clothing to reduce your risk of sunburn. Since you may not have feeling on certain areas of your body, sunburns can go unnoticed. However, they can still lead to problems and contribute to an increased risk of skin cancer. Similarly, when you’re going out in cold weather, bundle up from head to toe to avoid frostbite or increased skin sensitivity.

Inspect Your Skin Regularly

One of the best ways to be proactive when living with an SCI is to inspect your skin daily. While this can seem cumbersome, it’s important to catch wounds or ulcers early to avoid long-term complications. Include skin inspections in your bathing routine to take the proper precautions. Pay special attention to bony areas of your body, areas that receive a lot of pressure, and previous injury sites. Keep an eye out for any signs of ulcer formation, open wounds, rashes, blisters, redness, or signs of infection.

Wounds should be cared for based on the type and severity of the injury. To stay healthy and properly care for your skin, it’s best to see a doctor for wound assessment. They will provide treatment instructions to help your skin heal properly and without additional complications. Keep an eye on wounds and if you notice that they’re not healing, seek medical attention. Chronic wounds can present unique dangers, especially in those with spinal cord disorders and injuries, and therefore require specific care.


To reduce your risk of skin breakdown due to incontinence or bladder issues, talk to your doctor about intermittent self-catheterization. This is a great way to take control of your urologic health and can be performed by individuals with limited hand dexterity. To help those who have been afflicted by a spinal cord injury, Byram Healthcare offers a wide range of urology supplies such as catheters and incontinence care. Browse our products today and enjoy discreet delivery directly to your doorstep.