Mobility After a Spinal Cord Injury

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Mobility is an important aspect of a spinal cord injury. Mobility devices, such as crutches, walkers, wheelchairs, and scooters, can help you be more independent. They may allow you to work, shop, travel, or take part in sports.

Being able to move lets you take part more fully in community life and do the things you would like to do. You can often get around as quickly as anyone else can walking.

Most people with an SCI use a wheelchair at some point. Even if you can get around with a walker, there will probably be times when you need a wheelchair. The two main types of wheelchairs are:

Manual wheelchairs.

You move a manual wheelchair yourself. To do this, you need upper body strength. Manual wheelchairs with special designs are often used in sports, such as basketball, tennis, and racing.

Power wheelchairs.

Power wheelchairs have a motor, a control system, and a battery pack that you need to recharge. They are used by people with less upper body strength. They come in different models and are getting more diverse. For example, you can now buy off-road, four-wheel-drive wheelchairs.

Selecting a wheelchair

You select a wheelchair based on how much movement and feeling you have (your functional level of injury), how much you are able to do, how strong your upper body is, where and how the wheelchair will be used, and its cost. Questions you can ask are:

  • How much upper body strength do I have? Am I strong enough to use a manual wheelchair?
  • Where will the wheelchair be used? Indoors only? Or indoors and outdoors?
  • How often will I use the wheelchair? Sometimes or all the time?
  • Is it easy to travel with? Is it light and easy to take apart?
  • Will my insurance pay for all or some of it? How much will I have to spend on my own?
  • What guarantees or warranties come with the wheelchair?
  • Can it be serviced or repaired locally?

Wheelchair transfers

Moving from a wheelchair to another location is known as a transfer. Your injury and strength will determine what type of transfer you can do. You may be able to do it yourself, or you may need help. There are some important things to know for safe transfers. For example, lock your wheelchair, and make the distance between the transfer surfaces as small as possible.

Other mobility devices

Other types of mobility devices include:

Braces, crutches, and walkers.

Some people with SCIs have enough strength to use these devices. There are many types available. Your rehab team will help you find the best fit.


These are usually used by people who don't need help getting around all the time. Scooters usually cost less than wheelchairs. And they're easier to steer. Scooters can be self-propelled or motorized.


Many people with SCIs are able to drive with special modifications to their vehicle.

If you feel you can drive, talk to your occupational therapist or case manager. You will probably have to go through a program that evaluates your ability to drive safely. In most cases, this includes an evaluation of your visual and movement skills, reaction time, and hand function.

Related Information


Current as of: August 25, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Nancy Greenwald MD - Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.