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Gaps in SCI Research for Lower Limb

Gap: Lower limb edema after SCI

Source of evidence: http://sci.washington.edu/info/newsletters/articles/15_spr_edema.asp

While there are no studies on lower limb edema after SCI, there are recommendations based on general leg edema management from cardiovascular and diabetic populations, as well as clinical consensus from SCI practitioners.

Recognizing lower limb edema

Lower limb edema is common after SCI. Lower limb edema may require treatment if there is substantial edema, edema with pitting, edema which impacts shoe fitting or cellulitis (infection of the skin due to pooling), edema can even affect bladder management.



Elevating the feet above the hip (heart) can help counter the effects of gravity and drain the fluid back to the heart. This can be done at night or intermittently through the day. Studies in non-SCI populations have shown that elevating at least 30 degrees for 15 minutes can reduce some edema.

Compression stockings

Compression stockings (typically 20-30 mm Hg) can be prescribed by a physician and purchased at standard medical supply stores, lighter compression 15-20 mm Hg can be purchased without a prescription. Stockings can be difficult to put on, especially for those with less hand function and a number of assistive devices can help with donning. Custom stockings may be required for severe cases of swelling or wrapping with therapeutic compression bandages until transition to standard compression stockings. It is important to ensure that the stockings are applied without wrinkles and to check skin daily after stocking use. Stocking to be applied in the morning and removed when going to bed.


If edema cannot be controlled with conservative treatments, diuretic medication prescribed from a physician may be necessary to reduce body fluid and then transition the patient to more conservative methods. Diuretics should not be used for routine use, as they have side effects including lowering blood pressure and they can affect bladder management.

Gap: Footcare after SCI

Source of evidence:

Although ingrown toenails are cited in the Autonomic Dysreflexia literature as an aggravating stimulus there are no SCI specific studies on more global footcare and its management after SCI. There are recommendations based however on footcare for individuals with diabetes drafted by the Canadian Association of Wound Care (CAWC – http://cawc.net/en/index.php/public/feet/) as well clinical consensus from SCI practitioners.

Recognizing footcare issues:

Individuals with SCI have numerous issues that can arise to their feet that can lead to significant secondary complications if not addressed and prevented. These include: nail care and ingrown toenails, wounds, fungal infections, dermatitis and burns, mechanical trauma


Daily skin checks to ensure no open areas, no deep tissue trauma, no fungal or dermatitis evident

Edema management including compression socks if indicated. Ensure proper fitting shoes including purchasing them at time of day when edema is at its greatest

Increase skin checks to feet when shoes are new (every 2 hours)

May need to purchase shoes 1 size larger for easier application – consider Velcro to fasten

Closed toed shoes best to prevent trauma

Wear shoes in and outside the house (ambulatory or not)

Inspect shoes for abnormalities and shake out before applying

Consultation of a podiatrist or foot care nurse to manage nails if unable to do independently

Change socks daily

Do not smoke as this affects circulation

Dry feet well and between the toes

Moisturize dry skin as needed