Negotiating identity and self-image: perceptions of falls in ambulatory individuals with spinal cord injury – a qualitative study

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Abstract

Objective:

Explore and describe experiences and perceptions of falls, risk of falling, and fall-related consequences in individuals with incomplete spinal cord injury (SCI) who are still walking.

Design:

A qualitative interview study applying interpretive content analysis with an inductive approach.

Setting:

Specialized rehabilitation hospital.

Subjects:

A purposeful sample of 15 individuals (10 men), 23 to 78 years old, 2-34 years post injury with chronic incomplete traumatic SCI, and walking ≥75% of time for mobility needs.

Methods:

Individual, semi-structured face-to-face interviews were recorded, condensed, and coded to find themes and subthemes.

Results:

One overarching theme was revealed: “Falling challenges identity and self-image as normal” which comprised two main themes “Walking with incomplete SCI involves minimizing fall risk and fall-related concerns without compromising identity as normal” and “Walking with incomplete SCI implies willingness to increase fall risk in order to maintain identity as normal”. Informants were aware of their increased fall risk and took precautions, but willingly exposed themselves to risky situations when important to self-identity. All informants expressed some conditional fall-related concerns, and a few experienced concerns limiting activity and participation.

Conclusion:

Ambulatory individuals with incomplete SCI considered falls to be a part of life. However, falls interfered with the informants’ identities and self-images as normal, healthy, and well-functioning. A few expressed dysfunctional concerns about falling, and interventions should target these.

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