How You Will React After Spinal Cord Injury

When you experience a spinal cord injury, it is normal to have many emotional reactions. Your family and friends may also have these same emotional reactions. These emotions may occur at different times. The emotions you may experience include:

Panic and Fear

One of the first reactions you may have after a spinal cord injury is panic and fear. Fears are intense because you, as well as your family, may be worried that you may not survive. Until you become medically stable, physical and emotional feelings of panic may continue. Some of your physical symptoms may be rapid breathing, inability to sleep, decreased appetite and upset stomach. Some people may cry uncontrollably.

Shock and Denial

You may feel that what is happening is not real. You may notice things going on around you, but have trouble remembering information. You may also have a hard time understanding the seriousness of the injury that has occurred.


You may feel angry that you are in this situation. This may be justified. You may be angry with family members, friends, or others involved in the accident. On the other hand, your family may be angry that you put yourself in a situation where you could be hurt. You may be upset with the healthcare team for not doing or saying what you think is right. This is a normal reaction and it is okay to have these feelings.


Guilt is a very normal reaction during this time. You may feel you could have done something to prevent the accident from happening, even when this is far from true. Your family may also think about past events and personal experiences that they wish could have been different or better. Family or friends may feel upset or angry with you, then they may also feel guilty about having those feelings. This too is a normal reaction. We encourage you to talk about your feelings.


During this time you may feel distant from others. You may have a hard time relating to others. You may think that others will not understand. You may also think others are scared or disapprove of your feelings, and as a result isolate yourself. However, a crisis such as a spinal cord injury is a time where it is helpful to accept comfort, support and assistance from others.


As you begin to stabilize, anxiety about survival will be combined with hope of recovery. Medical complications and slow recovery may increase your anxiety. However, hope may be brought about the the smallest changes.

When you experience any of these emotions, know they are normal reactions to a very stressful situation. You may find it helpful to discuss your feelings with friends, family, clergy, or the healthcare team (See Communication, page 27). It may also be useful to record your feelings and experiences in a daily journal.


Publication of this educational booklet is made possible in part by the generous support of the following sponsors:

  • Metronic
  • Stryker
  • DePuy Spine
  • Fraternal Order of Eagles