University of Southern California Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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Autonomic dysreflexia

An uncontrolled reflex of the "autonomic" (involuntary) nervous system that can occur in people with a spinal cord injury above the 6th thoracic vertebra. Symptoms can include severe headache, abrupt rise in blood pressure, changes in heart rate, and perspiring and reddened skin above the level of the injury while there is paleness and goose bumps below the level. Autonomic dysreflexia is usually caused by an internal irritation, such as a full bladder. If not relieved, dysreflexia can be dangerous, as it can result in constriction of blood vessels, damage to the retinas or even a stroke.

Bony prominence

A part of the body where a bone naturally raises and is easily felt beneath the surface of the skin, such as the knee, heel, hip bone, tail bone, sacrum, elbow, back of the head, etc.


Intense inflammation, usually in a peripheral area of the body such as the lower limbs, caused by an infection; symptoms include redness, swelling, tenderness, pain, and warmth of the area to the touch.


A medical procedure to remove tissue that is damaged or dead on the surface until healthy tissue underneath is exposed.

Decubitus ulcer

A medical term for a pressure ulcer.

Heterotopic ossification (HO)

The formation of bone in soft tissue, such as joints like the shoulder, elbow, hip or knee.


An inadequate flow of blood to a part of the body, caused by blockage or constriction of a blood vessel.


The formal term used by the American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) to refer to lost or limited function of all four limbs, especially as the result of an injury or damage to the spinal cord in the cervical, or neck, area.

Transverse Myelitis

A neurological disorder caused by inflammation across both sides of one level, or segment, of the spinal cord. The segment of the spinal cord at which the damage occurs determines which parts of the body are affected. Damage at one segment will affect function at that segment and segments below it.

Urinary tract infection (UTI)

An infection somewhere in the urine-producing system, usually caused by bacteria formed in urine that has remained in the system too long. People with spinal cord injuries are susceptible to UTIs because they sometimes have difficulty urinating completely, or their bladders can sometimes get overly full if not emptied regularly. Symptoms include fever, chills, increased spasticity or urine that is cloudy, smelly or has particles in it.