A spinal cord injury (SCI) is damage to any part of the spinal cord or nerves at the end of the spinal canal. The condition often causes permanent changes in strength, sensation, and other body functions below the site of the injury.
Motor vehicle accidents, acts of violence, and sporting injuries are the common causes of spinal cord injury (SCI). The mechanism of injury influences the type of SCI and the degree of neurological deficit. Spinal cord lesions are classified as a complete (total loss of sensation and voluntary motor function) or incomplete (mixed loss of sensation and voluntary motor function).
Physical findings vary, depending on the level of injury, degree of spinal shock, and phase and degree of recovery, but in general, are classified as follows:
- C-1 to C-3: Tetraplegia with total loss of muscular/respiratory function.
- C-4 to C-5: Tetraplegia with impairment, reduced pulmonary capacity, complete dependency for ADLs.
- C-6 to C-7: Tetraplegia with some arm/hand movement allowing some independence in ADLs.
- C-7 to T-1: Tetraplegia with limited use of thumb/fingers, increasing independence.
- T-2 to L-1: Paraplegia with intact arm function and varying function of intercostal and abdominal muscles.
- L-1 to L-2 or below: Mixed motor-sensory loss; bowel and bladder dysfunction.
Nursing Care Plans
Nursing care planning and goals for patients with spinal cord injuries include: maximizing respiratory function, preventing injury to the spinal cord, promote mobility and/or independence, prevent or minimize complications, support psychological adjustment of patient and/or SO, and providing information about the injury, prognosis, and treatment.
- Risk for Ineffective Breathing Pattern
- Risk for Trauma
- Impaired Physical Mobility
- Disturbed Sensory Perception
- Acute Pain
- Anticipatory Grieving
- Situational Low Self-Esteem
- Impaired Urinary Elimination
- Risk for Autonomic Dysreflexia
- Risk for Impaired Skin Integrity
- Deficient Knowledge
- Other Possible Nursing Care Plans
Risk for Ineffective Breathing Pattern
- Risk for Ineffective Breathing Pattern
Risk factors may include
- Impairment of innervation of diaphragm (lesions at or above C-5)
- Complete or mixed loss of intercostal muscle function
- Reflex abdominal spasms; gastric distension
Possibly evidenced by
- [Not applicable; presence of signs and symptoms establishes an actual diagnosis.]
- Maintain adequate ventilation as evidenced by absence of respiratory distress and ABGs within acceptable limits
- Demonstrate appropriate behaviors to support the respiratory effort.
|Assess respiratory function by asking patient to take a deep breath. Note presence or absence of spontaneous effort and quality of respirations (labored, using accessory muscles).||C-1 to C-3 injuries result in complete loss of respiratory function. Injuries at C-4 or C-5 can lead to variable loss of respiratory function, depending on phrenic nerve involvement and diaphragmatic function, but generally cause decreased vital capacity and inspiratory effort. For injuries below C-6 or C-7, respiratory muscle function is preserved; however, weakness or impairment of intercostal muscles may impair effectiveness of cough and the ability to sigh, deep breathe.|
|Auscultate breath sounds. Note areas of absent or decreased breath sounds or development of adventitious sounds (rhonchi).||Hypoventilation is common and leads to accumulation of secretions, atelectasis, and pneumonia (frequent complications). Note: Respiratory compromise is one of the leading causes of mortality, especially during the acute stage as well as later in life.|
|Note strength or effectiveness of cough.||Level of injury determines the function of intercostal muscles and ability to cough spontaneously or move secretions.|
|Observe skin color for developing cyanosis, duskiness.||May reveal impending respiratory failure, need for immediate medical evaluation and intervention.|
|Assess for abdominal distension and muscle spasm.||Abdominal fullness may impede diaphragmatic excursion, reducing lung expansion and further compromising respiratory function.|
|Monitor and limit visitors as indicated.||General debilitation and respiratory compromise place patient at increased risk for acquiring URIs.|
|Monitor diaphragmatic movement when phrenic pacemaker is implanted.||Stimulation of phrenic nerve may enhance respiratory effort, decreasing dependency on mechanical ventilator.|
|Elicit concerns and questions regarding mechanical ventilation devices.||Acknowledges reality of situation.|
|Provide honest answers.||Future respiratory function needs will not be totally known until spinal shock resolves and acute rehabilitative phase is completed. Even though respiratory support may be required, alternative devices and techniques may be used to enhance mobility and promote independence.|
|Maintain patent airway: keep head in neutral position, elevate head of bed slightly if tolerated, use airway adjuncts as indicated.||Patients with high cervical injury and impaired gag and cough reflexes require assistance in preventing aspiration and maintaining patient airway.|
|Assist patient in “taking control” of respirations as indicated. Instruct in and encourage deep breathing, focusing attention on steps of breathing.||Breathing may no longer be a totally voluntary activity but require conscious effort, depending on level of injury and involvement of respiratory muscles.|
|Assist with coughing as indicated for level of injury (have patient take deep breath and hold for 2 sec before coughing, or inhale deeply, then cough at the end of a slow exhalation). Alternatively, assist by placing hands below diaphragm and pushing upward as patient exhales (quad cough).||Adds volume to cough and facilitates expectoration of secretions or helps move them high enough to be suctioned out. Note: Quad cough procedure is generally reserved for patients with stable injuries once they are in the rehabilitation stage.|
|Suction as necessary. Document quality and quantity of secretions.||If cough is ineffective, suctioning may be needed to remove secretions, enhance gas exchange, and reduce risk of respiratory infections. Note: “Routine” suctioning increases risk of hypoxia, bradycardia (vagal response), tissue trauma. Therefore, suctioning needs are based on inability to move secretions.|
|Reposition and turn periodically. Avoid and limit prone position when indicated.||Enhances ventilation of all lung segments, mobilizes secretions, reducing risk of complications such as atelectasis and pneumonia. Note: Prone position significantly decreases vital capacity, increasing risk of respiratory compromise and failure.|
|Encourage fluids (at least 2000 mL per day).||Aids in liquefying secretions, promoting mobilization and expectoration.|
|Measure or graph:|
||Determines level of respiratory muscle function. Serial measurements may be done to predict impending respiratory failure (acute injury) or determine level of function after spinal shock phase and while weaning from ventilatory support.|
||Documents status of ventilation and oxygenation, identifies respiratory problems such as hypoventilation (low Pao2 and elevated Paco2) and pulmonary complications.|
|Administer oxygen by appropriate method (nasal prongs, mask, intubation, ventilator).||Method is determined by level of injury, degree of respiratory insufficiency, and amount of recovery of respiratory muscle function after spinal shock phase.|
|Assist with use of respiratory adjuncts (incentive spirometer, blow bottles) and aggressive chest physiotherapy (chest percussion).||Preventing retained secretions is essential to maximize gas diffusion and to reduce risk of pneumonia.|
|Refer and consult with respiratory and physical therapists.||Helpful in identifying exercises individually appropriate to stimulate and strengthen respiratory muscles and effort. For example, glossopharyngeal breathing uses muscles of mouth, pharynx, and larynx to swallow air into lungs, thereby enhancing VC and chest expansion.|
Recommended nursing diagnosis and nursing care plan books and resources.
NANDA International Nursing Diagnoses: Definitions & Classification, 2021-2023
The definitive guide to nursing diagnoses as reviewed and approved by the NANDA International. In this new version of a pioneering text, all introductory chapters have been rewritten to provide nurses with the essential information they need to comprehend assessment, its relationship to diagnosis and clinical reasoning, and the purpose and application of taxonomic organization at the bedside. A total of 46 new nursing diagnoses and 67 amended nursing diagnostics are presented.
Ackley and Ladwig’s Nursing Diagnosis Handbook: An Evidence-Based Guide to Planning Care
We love this book because of it’s evidence-based approach to nursing interventions. This care plan handbook uses an easy, three-step system to guide you through client assessment, nursing diagnosis, and care planning. Includes step-by-step instructions show how to implement care and evaluate outcomes, and help you build skills in diagnostic reasoning and critical thinking.
Nursing Care Plans – Nursing Diagnosis & Intervention (10th Edition)
Includes over two hundred care plans that reflect the most recent evidence-based guidelines. New to this edition are ICNP diagnoses, care plans on LGBTQ health issues and on electrolytes and acid-base balance.
Nurse’s Pocket Guide: Diagnoses, Prioritized Interventions, and Rationales
Quick-reference tool includes all you need to identify the correct diagnoses for efficient patient care planning. The sixteenth edition includes the most recent nursing diagnoses and interventions from NANDA-I 2021-2023 and an alphabetized listing of nursing diagnoses covering more than 400 disorders.
Nursing Diagnosis Manual: Planning, Individualizing, and Documenting Client Care
Identify interventions to plan, individualize, and document care for more than 800 diseases and disorders. Only in the Nursing Diagnosis Manual will you find for each diagnosis…. subjectively and objectively – sample clinical applications, prioritized action/interventions with rationales – a documentation section, and much more!
All-in-One Nursing Care Planning Resource – E-Book: Medical-Surgical, Pediatric, Maternity, and Psychiatric-Mental Health
Includes over 100 care plans for medical-surgical, maternity/OB, pediatrics, and psychiatric and mental health. Interprofessional “patient problems” focus familiarizes you with how to speak to patients.
Other recommended site resources for this nursing care plan:
- Nursing Care Plans (NCP): Ultimate Guide and Database MUST READ!
Over 150+ nursing care plans for different diseases and conditions. Includes our easy-to-follow guide on how to create nursing care plans from scratch.
- Nursing Diagnosis Guide and List: All You Need to Know to Master Diagnosing
Our comprehensive guide on how to create and write diagnostic labels. Includes detailed nursing care plan guides for common nursing diagnostic labels.
Other nursing care plans for musculoskeletal disorders and conditions:
- Amputation | 4 Care Plans
- Congenital Hip Dysplasia | 4 Care Plans
- Fracture | 11 Care Plans
- Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis | 4 Care Plans
- Laminectomy (Disc Surgery) | 8 Care Plans
- Osteoarthritis | 4 Care Plans
- Osteoporosis | 4 Care Plans
- Rheumatoid Arthritis | 6 Care Plans
- Scoliosis | 4 Care Plans
- Spinal Cord Injury | 12 Care Plans
- Total Joint (Knee, Hip) Replacement | 5 Care Plans
Other nursing care plans related to neurological disorders:
- Alzheimer’s Disease | 15 Care Plans
- Brain Tumor | 3 Care Plans
- Cerebral Palsy | 7 Care Plans
- Cerebrovascular Accident | 12 Care Plans
- Guillain-Barre Syndrome | 6 Care Plans
- Meningitis | 7 Care Plans
- Multiple Sclerosis | 9 Care Plans
- Parkinson’s Disease | 9 Care Plans
- Seizure Disorder | 4 Care Plans
- Spinal Cord Injury | 12 Care Plans
References and Sources
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