Motor and sensory impairments after spinal cord injury cause a variety of functional impairments. Functional impairments are defined as restrictions that hinder an individual’s ability to perform tasks or activities (Jette 2006). Functional tasks are often described in terms of basic activities of daily living such as walking, climbing stairs, bathing and grooming. With complete lesions, higher levels of injury cause greater motor and sensory impairment, which are associated with greater functional impairments (Aidinoff et al. 2011). Incomplete lesions produce a more complicated pattern of motor and sensory impairments (Yilmaz et al. 2005). Individuals who have problems performing functional tasks frequently rely on a combination of assistive devices and assistance from others. Haisma et al. (2008) found that functional motor independence improved during in-patient rehabilitation and remained relatively stable one year post-discharge. Given that functional independence is a strong, significant predictor of care needs over time (Cohen et al. 2012), it is extremely important to understand the long-term functional independence of individuals with spinal cord injury.
In this section, 1 systematic review and 5 longitudinal studies on functional independence after SCI are reviewed.