The spinal cord is made up of nerves that run through the backbone and help control the body's muscles, enabling a person to move their body, feel pressure and control vital functions such as their breathing, bladder and bowels. 

If the spinal cord is damaged, messages travelling from the brain to the rest of the body are disrupted and can result in a loss of sensation and movement from below the point of injury.

Whilst the most common cause of spinal cord injury (SCI) is often trauma, it can also arise as a result of an infection or disease.

Levels of Spinal Cord Injury

The higher up the location of the injury in the spinal cord, the greater proportion of the body will be affected. Just as each person is unique, so too is each injury: people with SCI will often experience varying degrees sensation and loss of mobility.

SCI can be broken down into two different types of paralysis:


  • Damaging the spinal cord in the mid/lower part of the back results in paraplegia.
  • Paraplegia affects the movement and sensation in your legs and can also affect the muscles within the stomach.

Tetraplegia (also known as Quadraplegia)

  • Damaging the spinal cord in the neck results in tetraplegia/quadraplegia.
  • Tetraplegia affects movement and sensation in all four limbs,  in addition to the stomach and some chest muscles.

Living with SCI

Spinal cord injury comes hand in hand with a number of life threatening secondary health complications.

Bladder and Bowel

In most cases, spinal cord injury affects control over the bladder and bowel. This is due to the fact that the damaged nerves controlling these organs are no longer able to pass on messages from the bladder and bowel to the brain. People with SCI may experience incontinence problems as well as life threatening urinary tract infections.


Pressure ulcers can arise when an area of skin is placed under a large amount of pressure. This extra pressure disrupts the blood flow through the skin which causes the skin to be deprived of oxygen and other nutrients. Also known as pressure sores, the skin begins to break down which leads to the formation of an ulcer.

People with SCI are particularly vulnerable to pressure ulcers due to often experiencing a lack of sensation, compromised ability to relieve pressure and difficulty in managing skin care.

Our Work

A little bit of knowledge can be a life-saver but as is often the case in developing countries, people simply don’t get the information they need to stay healthy.

People living with spinal cord injuries in low income countries are particularly at risk and many do not survive for more than a couple of years after their injury. Often discharged from hospital without a wheelchair and with no information about how to adapt to their new life, they don’t know where to turn for support.

Working in some of the world's poorest countries, Motivation is tackling this head on and is committed to ensuring disabled people have access to vital health information and know their rights. You can find out more about our work here.