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Spinal cord injured people are more likely to have skin problems than non-disabled people because of reduced mobility, sensation and circulation and the inability to regulate body temperature below the level of injury.

Taking care of our skin is vital because it protects against outside bacteria and germs getting inside our bodies and regulates our body temperature.

Getting into a routine that allows us to look after our skin and check it regularly is essential to prevent skin problems from worsening without us realising it. This is especially important if you have lost sensation.

Skin problems can also impact how we feel about ourselves and could lead to low self-esteem.

Be vigilant with your skin care. Catching something in its early stages is a lot easier to manage than persevering with a skin problem

Damian Smith, spinal cord injury nurse specialist 

Tips for healthy skin

  • Check your skin for unusual marks twice daily, once in the morning before you get out of bed and on getting into bed in the evening.
  • Keep your skin clean and moisturised to help it become more resilient to damage.
  • Eat a balanced diet and drink about 2 litres of fluids a day.
  • Avoid smoking because it affects your circulation, which can slow down the healing process of any wounds and dries out your skin.

Preventing pressure ulcers

Wheelchair users are more at risk of developing pressure ulcers than non-disabled people. Pressure ulcers are painful skin conditions that can cause bruising, swelling and breakdown of the skin and muscle underneath. If not treated early, they can result in weeks or months spent on bed rest, which can affect our mental health and finances.

The good news is that pressure ulcers are almost always preventable. Using a pressure-relieving cushion on your wheelchair and replacing it when it shows signs of wear can help, as can wearing breathable, loose clothing that allows your skin to stretch.

Protecting your skin against moisture

Sweating and bladder accidents can expose our skin to excess moisture, making it more vulnerable to friction and reducing its protective barrier. That puts us at risk of developing dermatitis, a type of eczema that makes the skin either too dry or too wet and irritated.

If you’re experiencing this, speak with your healthcare professionals or spinal cord injury centre to address what’s causing the incontinence or sweating. And try using barrier creams and sprays to protect your skin as soon as possible.

Treating fungal infections

Moisture and heat can cause fungal infections in the folds of our skin, making it flaky, itchy and irritated. And that’s difficult to manage when you’re using a wheelchair because skin creases naturally. Speak with your community nurses or our SCI nurse specialists for advice on treating a fungal infection.

Want to know more?

Our factsheet series features information and guidance on caring for your skin and preventing pressure ulcers.  Download our basic fact sheet about pressure ulcers by clicking the link on the right of the page.  You can also find out more by clicking the buttons below:

Pressure care

Autonomic dysreflexia

Further information can also be found on the National Wound Care Strategy website.

Know where to turn for support

We can help you develop a skin care routine that is right for you. Get in touch with our SCI nurse specialists, who can help you with this and many other elements of life with spinal cord injury.