Nutrition & Spinal Cord Injury

Although living a healthy lifestyle is important for everyone, it is even more essential for a person living with a spinal cord injury. A recent study conducted said that people with disabilities fall far short when it comes to consuming recommended levels of vitamins and other nutrients. Many aspects encompass the idea of living a healthy lifestyle, such as nutrition, exercise and maladaptive behaviors. My focus is on nutrition.


Some things in life we have no control over, but we do have control over what we put into our bodies. We learned about the food groups in middle school, have witnessed the evolution of the food pyramid over the years and seen countless infomercials on diet strategies. There is so much information out there about nutrition; but none of the information takes into account a person with a disability. We are going to sift through some of the information available and provide you with some nutritional resources specific to spinal cord injury.


After a spinal cord injury, various factors need to be considered when putting together a nutritional plan. Here are some factors to consider.

  • The level of injury plays a significant role in how many calories you are able to burn. For example, a person with a high level cervical injury that uses a power chair will not be able to burn the same amount of calories as a low level thoracic injury where the person has full use of his arms and cardiovascular system.
  • There is no official guideline when it comes to caloric intake for persons with spinal cord injury. When comparing the caloric intake for an able bodied male or female, a general rule suggests that a quadriplegic needs 10-15 percent less calories to maintain a healthy weight, while paraplegics need 5-10 percent less calories.
  • Common secondary complications, such as pressure wounds, osteoporosis, urinary tract infections and even the medication you take may require you to alter your diet.  For instance, studies have shown that a person with a stage IV pressure sore may require up to twice the amount of the normal daily guideline for protein or an individual dealing with bladder infections should decrease caffeine intake.


Here are some web resources that can provide you with further information.

EatRight® Weight Management Program - Developed by the UAB Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, this weight management program is designed for individuals with spinal cord impairments, which includes persons with spinal cord injury, dysfunction and disease. EatRight is a twelve week program which utilizes a workbook and videos to guide you through the weekly lessons.

Florida Department of Health’s Healthy Weight Initiative - Healthy eating and physical activity are keys to maintaining a healthy weight. Being at a healthy weight is related to a reduction in several serious health conditions including heart disease, diabetes, stroke and certain cancers. For those that are overweight, even a modest weight loss can have a positive impact on your health. Healthy weight can also impact your energy levels, sleep habits, self-esteem, psychological health and health care costs.

Spinal Cord Injury Evidence-Based Nutrition Guidelines - The focus of this guideline is on medical nutrition therapy for adults with spinal cord injury in the acute care, rehabilitation and community-dwelling phases of injury.


*The following fact sheets are in PDF format

Cholesterol, Other Fats, and SCI
Dietary Guidelines for Individuals with SCI
Nutrition after SCI from Magee Rehabilitation
Weight Management and SCI
Weight Management following SCI
Diet after SCI
Pushin' On, Issue #1, 2013
Pushin' On, Issue #2, 2012 - Understanding Obesity & SCI


Lastly, if you are in need of inspiration or wonder if losing weight while having a disability is possible, here are two examples that it is possible.

Disabled mom discovers 'Wheelin Weightloss'
Paraplegic loses 275 pounds

A - Z Resource Center