Spinal Cord Injury

SCI: Executive Summary of Recommendations (2009)

Executive Summary of Recommendations

Below are the major recommendations and ratings for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Evidence-Based Nutrition Practice Guideline.  View the Guideline Overview section for Background Information.. More detail (including the evidence analysis supporting these recommendations) is available on this website to Academy members and EAL subscribers under Major Recommendations.

To see a description of the Academy Recommendation Rating Scheme (Strong, Fair, Weak, Consensus, Insufficient Evidence), click here.

The SCI Recommendations are listed below. [Note: If you mouse-over underlined acronyms and terms, a definition will pop up.]

  • Screening and Referral
    SCI: Role of the Registered Dietitian
    A registered dietitian should be an active participant of the interdisciplinary team providing care for patients with spinal cord injuries in the acute phase, rehabilitation setting and community setting. Evidence suggests that medical nutrition therapy provided to patients with spinal cord injuries by a registered dietitian results in improved nutrition-related patient outcomes, such as adequate nutrient intake and management of serum lipids, weight, dysphagia, bowel function and pressure ulcers.
    Fair
    Imperative
    SCI: Nutrition Screening for Lipid Abnormalities
    Screening for lipid abnormalities is recommended for all persons with spinal cord injury living in the community setting in order to reduce morbidity and mortality. Studies show that spinal cord injury is associated with increased risk for cardiovascular disease due to inactivity and immobilization.  
    Fair
    Conditional
  • Nutrition Assessment
    SCI: Assessment: Energy Needs in the Acute Phase
    If the patient with spinal cord injury is in the acute phase of spinal cord injury, the registered dietitian (RD) should assess energy needs by measuring energy expenditure. Patients with spinal cord injury have reduced metabolic activity due to denervated muscle. Actual energy needs are at least 10% below predicted needs. Indirect calorimetry is more accurate than estimation of energy needs in critically ill patients.
    Strong
    Conditional
    SCI: Assessment: Energy Needs in the Acute Phase using Predictive Equations
    If the patient with spinal cord injury is in the acute phase of spinal cord injury, and indirect calorimetry is not available, the registered dietitian may consider estimating energy needs with the Harris-Benedict formula, using admission weight, an injury factor of 1.2 and an activity factor of 1.1. No research was available to compare Harris-Benedict with other predictive equations in this population. 
    Weak
    Conditional
    SCI: Assessment: Energy Needs in the Rehabilitation Phase
    If the patient with spinal cord injury is in the rehabilitation phase, the registered dietitian may estimate energy needs using 22.7kcal per kg body weight for patients with quadriplegia and 27.9kcal per kg for those with paraplegia. Patients with spinal cord injury have reduced metabolic activity due to denervated muscle.
    Weak
    Conditional
    SCI: Assessment of Protein Needs in the Acute Phase
    If the patient with spinal cord injury is in the acute phase, the registered dietitian should calculate protein needs at 2.0g per kg of ideal body weight per day to lessen the obligatory negative nitrogen balance that occurs during the acute phase.
    Weak
    Conditional
    SCI: Assessment of Protein Needs in the Rehabilitation and Community Living Phases
    If the person with spinal cord injury is in the rehabilitation phase or community living phase, then the registered dietitian should calculate protein needs at 0.8g to 1.0g per kg of body weight per day for maintenance of protein status in the absence of pressure ulcers or infection.
    Weak
    Conditional
    SCI: Nutrition Assessment in the Acute Care Setting
    If a patient is in the acute phase of spinal cord injury, the registered dietitian should conduct a nutrition assessment within the first 48 hours post-injury, in order to determine nutrient needs, provide nutrition support recommendations and identify conditions that may predispose the patient to nutrition-related complications. Evidence suggests that early nutrition support is associated with improved patient outcomes. The nutrition assessment should include but is not limited to: 
    • Food- and nutrition-related history: Energy intake, diet order, food or beverage intake
    • Anthropometrics: Weight change 
    • Biochemical and medical tests and procedures: Swallow study, inflammatory profile, metabolic profile, albumin, prealbumin 
    • Nutrition-focused physical findings: Digestive system, cardiovascular and pulmonary systems
    • Client history: Treatment and therapy
    • Comparative standards: Energy needs, protein needs, ideal and reference body weight, fluid needs.
    Strong
    Conditional
    SCI: Nutrition Assessment in the Rehabilitation Setting
    If a patient is in the rehabilitation phase of spinal cord injury, the registered dietitian should conduct a nutrition assessment to develop and implement an individualized therapeutic nutrition plan for the patient. Evidence suggests that medical nutrition therapy by a registered dietitian may result in improved ability to participate in therapies and in an improved transition into the community setting. The nutrition assessment should include but is not limited to:
    • Food- and nutrition-related history: Energy intake, diet order, food beverage intake, fiber intake, medication and herbal supplement use, mealtime behavior, nutrition-related ADLs and IADLs, physical activity, weight change
    • Anthropometrics: Weight change
    • Biochemical and medical tests and procedures: Swallow study, inflammatory profile, metabolic profile, albumin
    • Nutrition-focused physical findings: Digestive system; cardiovascular-pulmonary system, skin
    • Client history: Social history
    • Comparative standards: Energy needs, protein needs, ideal or reference body weight, fluid needs, fiber needs.
    Fair
    Conditional
    SCI: Nutrition Assessment in the Community Setting
    If a person with spinal cord injury is living in the community setting, the registered dietitian should conduct a nutrition assessment as part of the annual medical exam to develop and implement an individualized therapeutic nutrition plan.   The nutrition assessment should include but is not limited to: 
    • Food- and nutrition-related history (specifically knowledge deficits, beliefs and attitudes, body image, mealtime behaviors, physical ability to self-feed, access to food- and nutrition-related supplies, meal preparation and food avoidances)
    • Anthropometric measurements (specifically body composition, weight)
    • Biochemical data, medical tests and procedures (specifically serum lipid and glucose levels)
    • Social history (specifically isolation)
    • Nutrition-focused physical findings (specifically bowel and bladder function). Evidence suggests that annual nutrition assessment by a registered dietitian is necessary to identify nutrition-related concerns that may affect the health and quality of life of persons with spinal cord injury. 
    Fair
    Conditional
    SCI: Pressure Ulcers: Prevention
    The Registered Dietitian (RD) should assess persons with spinal cord injury for risk factors associated with the development of pressure ulcers. The RD should determine the frequency of nutrition reassessment based on changes in nutritional or medical parameters and institutional protocols. Research suggests that maintenance of nutrition-related parameters, including anthropometrics, skin integrity, dietary intake, lifestyle factors and biochemical indices, may be associated with reduced risk of pressure ulcers.
    Fair
    Imperative
    SCI: Assessment of Biochemical Parameters Associated with Prevention of Pressure Ulcers
    The Registered Dietitian should assess laboratory indices associated with the risk of pressure ulcers such as albumin, prealbumin, zinc, vitamin A and vitamin C as part of the nutrition assessment of persons with spinal cord injury. Biochemical parameters as close to normal as possible or within the normal range are associated with reduced risk of pressure ulcers.
    Fair
    Imperative
    SCI: Assessment of Anthropometric, Nutrition and Lifestyle Factors Associated with Prevention of Pressure Ulcers
    The Registered Dietitian should assess anthropometric, nutrition and lifestyle factors, including weight, food and nutrition-related history (food intake, alcohol intake, physical activity and function) and smoking history for persons with spinal cord injury. Evidence suggests that the risk of developing pressure ulcers is reduced in individuals who maintain a normal weight, consume adequate amounts of nutrients and do not have a history of smoking or alcohol abuse.
    Fair
    Imperative
    SCI: Assessment of Body Composition: Estimation of Ideal Body Weight
    The registered dietitian should estimate ideal body weight for persons with spinal cord injury by adjusting the Metropolitan Life Insurance tables for individuals of equivalent height and weight. There are two reported methods for adjusting the tables:
    • Quadraplegia, reduction of 10% to 15% lower than table weight; paraplegia, reduction of 5% to 10% lower than table weight
    • Quadriplegia, 15 lbs to 20 lbs lower than table weight; paraplegia, 10 lbs to 15 lbs lower than table weight.
    Consensus
    Imperative
    SCI: Assessment of Body Composition: BMI and skinfold measurements
    The registered dietitian should not use body mass index (BMI) or skinfold measurements to measure body composition in persons with spinal cord injury. These methods may not provide reliable results since they were developed based on able-bodied persons.
    Fair
    Imperative
    SCI: Assessment of Body Composition: BIA and DEXA
    For persons with spinal cord injury who are medically stable, the registered dietitian should consider using bioelectric impedance analysis (BIA) or dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) to assess body composition. Evidence suggests that BIA and DEXA correlate with measures of total body water (TBW) when labeled water is used to provide a reference value for TBW. Persons with spinal cord injury have significantly higher fat mass and lower lean mass than persons without spinal cord injury.
    Fair
    Conditional
    SCI: Nutrition Assessment for Prevention and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity
    The Registered Dietitian should assess the weight and body composition of persons with spinal cord injury (SCI), and adjust energy level or implement weight management strategies as appropriate. The SCI population is at a higher risk of associated comorbidities such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. Lower levels of spontaneous physical activity and a lower thermic effect of food result in decreased energy expenditure and energy needs. See Nutrition Assessment recommendations for methods to determine weight and energy needs, and ADA Adult Weight Management Evidence-based Nutrition Practice Guideline for methods to manage overweight and obesity.
    Strong
    Imperative
    SCI: Physical Activity and Energy Needs
    The registered dietitian should consider the body weight, co-morbid conditions including abnormal blood lipids and obesity, level of physical activity, rate of propulsion and type of wheelchair used by the person with spinal cord injury when assessing energy needs. Evidence suggests that the use of a manual standard wheelchair increases energy needs, heart rate, oxygen consumption and ventilation, especially as speed and resistance levels increase, compared to ultralight wheelchairs and pushrim-activated, power-assisted wheelchairs.
    Fair
    Imperative
    SCI: Assessment: Energy Needs For Persons with Spinal Cord Injury with Pressure Ulcers
    If a person with spinal cord injury has a pressure ulcer, the registered dietitian should measure energy needs by indirect calorimetry (IC). If indirect calorimetry is not available, any of the following predictive equations may be used to calculate energy needs : 
    • 30kcal to 40kcal per kg of body weight per day
    • Harris-Benedict times stress factor (1.2 for stage II ulcer, 1.5 for stage III and IV ulcers).
    No evidence currently exists to suggest that any one of the above predictive equations is superior to the others. Persons with spinal cord injury with pressure ulcers have higher energy needs than persons with spinal cord injury who have similar levels of injury and no pressure ulcers. Evidence suggests that additional energy is needed for optimal healing of pressure ulcers.
    Consensus
    Conditional
    SCI: Assessment: Protein Needs For Persons with Spinal Cord Injury with Pressure Ulcers
    If a person with spinal cord injury has a pressure ulcer, the registered dietitian should calculate protein needs as follows:
    • 1.2g to 1.5g of protein per kg body weight per day (Stage II pressure ulcers) 
    • 1.5g to 2.0g of protein per kg body weight per day (Stage III and IV pressure ulcers).  
    Persons with spinal cord injury with pressure ulcers have higher protein needs than persons with spinal cord injury who have similar levels of injury and no pressure ulcers. Evidence suggests that additional protein is needed for optimal healing of pressure ulcers. 
    • Arginine and its relationship to wound healing has been researched for over 30 years, primarily in animal models. Clear and definitive guidelines for its safe and effective use have yet to be established. 
    • Glutamine should not be routinely provided to all patients with wounds due to insufficient data.
    Consensus
    Conditional
    SCI: Assessment: Fluid Needs for Persons with Spinal Cord Injury with Pressure Ulcers
    If a person with spinal cord injury has a pressure ulcer, the registered dietitian should assess hydration status to determine fluid needs. Assessment of hydration status includes evaluation of parameters such as input and output, urine color, skin turgor, BUN and serum sodium. Increased fluid losses may result from the evaporation of fluids from a severe pressure ulcer, draining or open wounds, fever or the use of an air-fluidized bed. Current fluid recommendations are based on guidelines for the non-SCI population. 
    • Normal requirement: 30ml to 40ml per kg
    • Minimum of 1.0ml per kcal per day
    • 10ml to 15ml per kg additional fluids may be required with the use of air fluidized beds set at a high temperature (more than 31º to 34ºC or more than 88º to 93ºF)
      • Fluid loss includes evaporation from open wounds, wound drainage and fever 
      • These guidelines are only a general indication of insensible water loss; the registered dietitian will need to monitor other parameters of hydration status.
       
    Consensus
    Conditional
    SCI: Assessment: Micronutrient Needs for Persons with SCI with Pressure Ulcers
    If a person with spinal cord injury has a pressure ulcer, the registered dietitian should recommend a daily vitamin and mineral supplement that meets no more than 100% of the RDA. Certain micronutrients play a role in the process of wound healing; however, the optimal nutrient intake is not known at this time. Few rigorous scientific studies exist in this area, even for the non-SCI population. Therefore, comprehensive evidence-based practice guidelines are not developed for micronutrient needs. If a person with spinal cord injury has a pressure ulcer and has a suspected or documented micronutrient deficiency, the registered dietitian should provide additional supplementation. Caution should be used when supplementing greater than the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL). The dietitian should re-evaluate the need for micronutrient supplementation every seven to 10 days. Vitamin A Vitamin A deficiency results in impaired wound healing and alteration in immune function that may increase the likelihood of wound infections. Documented recommendations for amount of Vitamin A for enhanced wound healing in injured patients is 10,000 IU to 50,000 IU per day and 10,000 IU IV for moderate-severely injured patients or malnourished patients for a limit of 10 days. For patients receiving steroids, 10,000 IU to 15,000 IU for one week has been recommended to counteract the anti-inflammatory effects of steroids. Vitamin A supplementation should be implemented cautiously and judiciously because of potential toxicity. Additional research is needed to confirm optimal dosage. Vitamin C Vitamin C deficiency has been associated with delayed wound healing. In patients with Vitamin C deficiency, supplementation has been shown to enhance wound healing. High doses of Vitamin C for healing chronic wounds is widely recommended in the literature. The Agency for Health Care Research and Quality recommends 100mg to 200mg per day of Vitamin C for Stage I and II pressure ulcers and 1,000mg to 2,000mg per day of Vitamin C for Stage III and IV pressure ulcers. Additional research is needed to confirm optimal dosage. Vitamin E The effect of Vitamin E in healing acute and chronic wounds is controversial. Further research is needed in humans with controlled randomized trials to determine risks and benefits of various doses of Vitamin E and the effect on healing. Zinc Zinc deficiency is associated with delayed wound healing due to a decrease in collagen and protein synthesis and impaired immune competence. Replacement therapy guidelines have not been well defined in the literature. ZnSo4 220mg (50mg elemental Zinc) twice per day is recommended as a standard adult oral replacement. High-dose supplementation of zinc should be limited to two to three weeks. Dosage should be individualized according to zinc status and metabolic demands. Iron Anemia assessed by hemoglobin and hematocrit levels reduces oxygen supply to tissues, thus impairing healing of pressure ulcers. If low hemoglobin concentration is due to iron deficiency anemia, it may be a factor in tissue hypoxia and impaired wound healing. Supplementation should be provided as indicated to correct iron deficiency anemia.
    Consensus
    Conditional
    SCI: Nutrition Assessment of Lipid Abnormalities
    If persons with spinal cord injury living in the community setting have lipid abnormalities, the registered dietitian should include age, ethnicity, gender, time since injury, level of injury, activity level, dietary habits, smoking behavior, alcohol intake and overweight or obese status in the food and nutrition-related history. Studies show that these factors are associated with abnormal blood lipids, particularly decreased HDL cholesterol, in persons with spinal cord injury.
    Strong
    Conditional
  • Nutrition Intervention
    SCI: Nutrition Education and Counseling for Lipid Abnormalities
    If persons with spinal cord injury living in the community setting have total cholesterol levels more than 200mg per dL (5.2mmol per L), then a Registered Dietitian (RD) should provide comprehensive nutrition education and counseling regarding a cardioprotective diet. Persons with spinal cord injury can achieve improvements in lipid values similar to those of other individuals with disorders of lipid metabolism, and persons with spinal cord injury are at higher risk of cardiovascular conditions.
    Fair
    Conditional
    SCI: Cranberry Juice
    If consistent with patient preference and other nutritional considerations, the Registered Dietitian may recommend that cranberry juice be included in the diet of persons with spinal cord injury to reduce urinary tract infections. Consumption of one cup (250ml) cranberry juice, three times per day, may be associated with a reduced urinary tract biofilm load.
    Weak
    Conditional
    SCI: Urologic Health: Cranberry extract supplements
    The Registered Dietitian should not recommend cranberry extract supplements to promote urologic health (prevention of urinary tract infections, urologic stones, etc.) in spinal cord injured persons.   Evidence suggests that cranberry extract supplements, ingested in tablet or capsule form, are not effective in prolonging the UTI-free period or decreasing bacteriuria or WBC count in persons with spinal cord injuries.
    Fair
    Imperative
    SCI: Fiber and Neurogenic Bowel: Level of Fiber Intake
    The Registered Dietitian should prescribe for persons with spinal cord injury with neurogenic bowel an initial fiber intake of 15g per day, with gradual increases up to 30g per day of fiber, as tolerated from a variety of sources. A fiber intake of 15g per day may be associated with significant improvements in bowel function. However, fiber intake greater than 20g per day may be associated with undesirable prolonged intestinal transit times in persons with spinal cord injury.
    Weak
    Conditional
    SCI: Nutrition Education Regarding Physical Activity
    If a person with spinal cord injury has lipid abnormalities and weight management issues, then the registered dietitian should provide initial brief nutrition education regarding the relationship between physical activity and improving lipid levels. Evidence suggests that appropriate physical activity may result in improvements of blood lipid parameters and weight in persons with spinal cord injury. 
    Fair
    Conditional
    SCI: Nutrition Education Regarding Physical Activity in Overweight and Obese Persons with SCI
    If a person with spinal cord injury is overweight or obese, the registered dietitian should encourage physical activity as part of a comprehensive weight management program. A carefully planned weight management program incorporating physical activity has been shown to reduce and maintain weight in overweight and obese persons with spinal cord injury. Evidence suggests that appropriate physical activity, such as wheelchair sports, swimming, electrical stimulation exercise and body weight supported treadmill training may result in improvements of blood lipid parameters and weight in persons with spinal cord injury.
    Weak
    Conditional
    SCI: Nutrition Intervention for Treatment of Overweight and Obesity
    If a person with spinal cord injury is overweight or obese, the registered dietitian should implement weight management strategies as appropriate. The SCI population is at a higher risk of associated comorbidities such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. Lower levels of spontaneous physical activity and a lower thermic effect of food result in decreased energy expenditure and energy needs. See the Nutrition Assessment recommendations for methods to determine weight and energy needs and the ADA Adult Weight Management Evidence-based Nutrition Practice Guideline for methods to manage overweight and obesity.
    Strong
    Imperative
    SCI: Nutrition Intervention to Prevent Development of Pressure Ulcers
    If a patient with spinal cord injury is at risk of pressure ulcer development as indicated by biochemical, anthropometric and lifestyle factors, the registered dietitian should implement aggressive nutrition support measures. The range of options may include medical food supplements and enteral and parenteral nutrition. Research suggests that improved nutrition intake, body weight and biochemical parameters may be associated with reduced risk of pressure ulcer development.
    Strong
    Conditional
    SCI: Nutrition Prescription for SCI Persons with Pressure Ulcers
    A nutrition prescription should be formulated as part of the nutrition intervention for persons with spinal cord injury (SCI) and pressure ulcers, which includes the energy, protein, fluid and micronutrient requirements. Evidence suggests that additional energy and protein is needed for optimal healing of pressure ulcers. Fluid and micronutrient needs will vary depending on the person's status. See the Assessment of Nutritional Needs for Pressure Ulcers for determining levels of each of these.
    Consensus
    Imperative
    SCI: Coordination of Care in Spinal Cord Injury
    The Registered Dietitian (RD) should implement MNT and coordinate care with the interdisciplinary team providing care for persons with spinal cord injury in the acute phase, rehabilitation setting and community setting. The interdisciplinary team is composed of health professionals including but not limited to: Physicians, nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech therapists, RDs, exercise physiologists and mental health professionals. Evidence suggests that optimal care of each patient requires a multidisciplinary approach in all aspects of patient care, including nutrition. 
    Weak
    Imperative
    SCI: Fluid and Neurogenic Bowel: Estimating Fluid Needs to Promote Optimal Stool Consistency
    The registered dietitian should estimate the fluid needs of persons with spinal cord injury with neurogenic bowel by using the guidelines of the Consortium on Spinal Cord Medicine, as follows:
    • One ml fluid per kcal estimated energy needs plus 500ml or
    • 40ml per kg body weight plus 500ml.
    A minimum of 1.5L of fluid per day may promote optimal stool consistency in persons with spinal cord injury and neurogenic bowel. Persons with spinal cord injury and neurogenic bowel often have an increase in colonic transit time, resulting in excessive fluid reabsorption and the formation of hardened stools. Further research is needed to establish fluid intake guidelines for this population.
    Consensus
    Conditional
  • Nutrition Monitoring and Evaluation
    SCI: Monitoring and Evaluation in Acute Care Setting
    If a patient is in the acute phase of spinal cord injury, a Registered Dietitian should provide ongoing monitoring of the patient's nutrition status. Evidence suggests that conditions such as hypoproteinemia, hypoalbuminemia, anemia, poor bowel function and dysphagia are better managed when patients receive adequate nutrition care from a Registered Dietitian.
    Fair
    Conditional
    SCI: Monitoring and Evaluation of Protein Intake in Acute Care Setting: Overfeeding
    If a patient with spinal cord injury is in the acute phase (zero to four weeks post-injury), the registered dietitian should monitor the patient's protein intake to ensure that the patient does not consume more than 2.0g per kg of body weight per day. Efforts to achieve positive nitrogen balance with excessive nutrition support are generally unsuccessful and may result in substrate overload and metabolic complications with subsequent poor outcomes.
    Weak
    Conditional
    SCI: Monitoring and Evaluation of Energy Needs During the Rehabilitation Phase
    The registered dietitian should monitor weight, functional capacity and physical activity and adjust energy needs as necessary. As patients with spinal cord injury progress through the rehabilitation phase and move into the community setting, changes in these factors may affect energy needs.
    Weak
    Conditional
    SCI: Nutrition Monitoring and Evaluation for Fiber and Neurogenic Bowel
    The Registered Dietitian (RD) should monitor at regular intervals the fiber intake of persons with spinal cord injury and neurogenic bowel, and the amount of dietary fiber provided should be adjusted as necessary. Provision of excessive fiber may result in unacceptable flatulence, significant increase in stool volume and painful abdominal distension, while provision of inadequate fiber may result in constipation or bowel impaction.
    Weak
    Conditional