Isolated and anxious: A qualitative exploration of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on individuals living with spinal cord injury in the UK

J Spinal Cord Med. 2022 Sep;45(5):691-699. doi: 10.1080/10790268.2021.1949562. Epub 2021 Jul 22.

Abstract

Objective: People living with spinal cord injury (SCI) are often immunocompromised, and at increased risk of respiratory infection. Given the restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, those with SCI may be at increased risk of health deterioration, though how this is experienced is poorly understood. This study explored the experiences of people living with SCI during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Design: Participants completed an online survey consisting of demographic questions, and open-ended qualitative questions pertaining to their experiences during the pandemic. Thematic analysis was utilized for the analytical approach.

Setting: Community-based sample in the UK.

Participants: Participants were recruited via social media outlets of UK-based SCI-specific support charities, and snowball sampling (N = 42, F = 34, M = 8).

Results: Key themes included: (1) lost access to health services and support, capturing concerns surrounding barriers to healthcare and rehabilitation, which intensified secondary consequences of SCI such as spasm and pain; (2) health anxiety, which was perpetuated by perceived heightened vulnerabilities to respiratory complications; (3) social isolation, with significantly reduced social contact, even with care providers, compounding health experiences.

Conclusion: People living with SCI during the COVID-19 pandemic experienced a variety of personal physical, psychological, and social challenges, each of which could disrupt daily functioning and quality of life. Increased utilization of telehealth is recommended to support continued engagement in rehabilitation, and foster connection and community amongst others with SCI and health professionals.

Keywords: COVID-19; Infection; Isolation; Pandemic; SCI; Thematic analysis.