Coping with fatigue after spinal cord injury

21 July 2021

The Higgs LLP Injury team, explores how fatigue can strike following a spinal cord injury – and offers some advice for dealing with it.

Fatigue is a common and frustrating obstacle for people who have suffered a spinal cord injury. It is so much more than just a physical condition - fatigue can have a significant impact on emotional and mental state as well.

Many factors may contribute to fatigue following a spinal cord injury. Potential causes of fatigue include medication use, depression, anaemia, chronic pain, behavioural factors and sleep disorders.

Fatigue can affect an individual with a spinal cord injury regardless of the level of injury.

It can manifest in many ways. Someone may feel tired because they have over-exerted themselves or may experience more targeted muscle fatigue in certain areas because of physiological reasons.

Patients may also be suffering from psychological issues associated with their injury and this can also cause a feeling of fatigue.

What is fatigue? 

We all feel tired at times, whether this is after exercise, or a long day at the office. Generally, though, with a little rest most of us tend to boost our energy levels and return to normal. With spinal cord injury fatigue, however, that tiredness or weak feeling is directly related to the injury itself and can quickly become chronic in nature.

Research into fatigue following a spinal cord injury has identified that there are two different types:

  • Intrinsic muscle fatigue: This is a sensation of fatigue in specific muscles as a direct result of the injury. It occurs at the same level or below the level of the damage and is caused by biological changes such as loss of motor neurons and biological changes in the muscles. It can be improved by electrical stimulation and, in some cases, physiotherapy.
  • Chronic fatigue: This is a specifically a long-term effect of a spinal cord injury and often has a wide range of causes. It can happen because the muscles of the body are no longer conditioned in the same way they were prior to the injury. There are also psychological effects in the way an individual thinks about their injury which may cause fatigue, such as depression and anxiety. 

Useful tips for managing fatigue following a spinal cord injury

There are several ways to improve the feeling of fatigue but it’s important in the first instance to identify what the problem is and what the individual’s capabilities are.

An individual may have certain triggers that make fatigue more likely. These can include lack of sleep, eating unhealthy foods and doing too many activities. It’s important that following a spinal cord injury individuals get the right balance when it comes to sleep, diet and exercise.

  • Plan the day better. If the individual understands what causes their fatigue, it’s easier to plan the day and avoid issues that will drain energy.
  • Balance rest and activity. Balance is good. It is essential that the individual learns how to use their energy levels well. That means choosing the time to be active and the time to rest.
  • Talk to people. It’s important that the individual is able to communicate their problems concerning fatigue to those around them. Then they can plan and make adjustments.
  • Exercise. As with a healthy diet, getting the right amount of exercise is important in helping to manage fatigue. A lot depends on the level of the spinal cord injury, but by being active this can improve fitness and reduce general tiredness. 

It is essential not to just put up with spinal cord injury fatigue. Finding effective strategies and making changes to daily routines can help to ease symptoms associated with fatigue and ensure the individual has energy for the things that matter most.

At Higgs LLP, we’re passionate about securing the best rehabilitation for people who have suffered spinal cord injury. Where beneficial, we signpost our clients to specialists to ensure they get the support they need. Rehabilitation case managers who oversee the rehabilitative process for our clients are skilled in identifying situations where a client needs additional support and guidance.

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