6 Causes of Burns After a Spinal Cord Injury and How to Avoid Them

Parts of your body without sensation are vulnerable to burns. It’s important to take some common-sense precautions to avoid them. Follow these simple, but effective tips.

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Learn how to prevent burns after a spinal cord injury.

After a spinal cord injury, it’s important to be very aware of the areas in your body without sensation. Be mindful of how your body is positioned. Be especially carefully to keep the parts of your body without feeling away from extreme heat, fire, and other hazards that could cause burns.

Typical causes of burns

Many people with spinal cord injuries have burned themselves severely because they did not feel the hot temperature against their skin. Burns can be caused by grills, heating pads, spilled hot beverages, dropped cigarettes, and hot water in a tub or shower. Even the floor board of a car or the cement around a pool can become very hot, causing severe burns to your feet or legs without you noticing.

One researcher of spinal cord burn victims said that, “objects commonly used in daily life may produce the most frightful burns.” In one study, the most common causes were bathing and showering, food and beverages, and therapy devices, such as heating pads or electrical stimulation.

Tips for avoiding common burns

Like pressure ulcers, the best strategy for avoiding burns hinges on three things: 1) understanding the risks, 2) always being aware of what’s contacting your body, and 3) taking practical preventive steps.

Now that you have a better understanding of some of the most common risks, here are a few tips that can help increase your awareness of the typical sources of burns, and how to prevent them.

Cause of Burn Prevention Tips and Considerations
Showering and bathing
  • Lower your hot water settings to below 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) to avoid scalding
  • Check water temperatures with a part of your body that has normal sensation, or with a thermometer
  • Bathtub water should not be above 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius)
Heating Devices
  • Avoid using heating pads, chemical hot packs, or electric blankets on areas of your body with no sensation
Fire or extreme heat
  • Keep your distance from fireplaces, camp fires, radiators, and hot water pipes
  • If working on your car, watch for mufflers, tailpipes, or others areas that are hot
  • Even the heater inside your car can cause a burn if you're not careful
Hot foods and beverages
  • Use a tray for hot foods and a cupholder for hot beverages
  • Don't fill cups or mugs to the top with hot beverages
  • Be careful not to bump into hot pans on a stove that could spill on to you — keep pan handles over the stove surface
  • Be extra careful when reaching across hot stove burners
  • Use a heat-resistant board on your lap to protect your body when carrying hot pans or dishes
Sunburn and hot outside surfaces
  • Avoid prolonged exposure to the sun or sun lamps
  • Use sunscreen with a high SPF rating
  • Watch out for hot rocks or concrete when sitting or lying on outside surfaces

A good general rule of thumb is to check your skin often and be aware of hot or extremely cold surfaces. Extremes in temperature can produce deep skin damage that can take months to heal and put you at risk for severe infection.

What to do if you have a minor burn

Give yourself first aid right away. Apply cool water to the area (not cold water or ice). Once the area is cooled and dry, apply an antibiotic ointment or lotion. Bandage with a sterile gauze.

For more serious burns, visit your nearest urgent care center or hospital emergency room immediately.