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“Living with a fragmented body”: a qualitative study on perceptions about body changes after a spinal cord injury


Study design

A qualitative study analyzed using Grounded Theory.


To explore perceived bodily changes in people with acquired spinal cord injury of both genders and with different levels of injury.


The National Paraplegic Hospital in Toledo, Spain, a national reference center for the treatment of spinal cord injury.


A qualitative study designed and analyzed from the perspective of Grounded Theory. Semi-structured interviews were conducted in a triangulated sample of 32 people with acquired spinal cord injury. The analysis was based on the constant comparative method and an open, axial, and selective coding process.


The perceptions regarding bodily changes in people with spinal cord injury were grouped into two broad categories: changes in body schema (a fragmented body, a blurred body, body as a burden, non-muscular body, the wheelchair as an extension of the body, and body normalization) and increased bodily awareness (an uncontrollable body and retraining the body). The amount of time since the injury, positive life behaviors and attitudes, youth, male gender, and having flexible beliefs, values, and habits were considered facilitators for coping with body changes after a spinal cord injury.


Suffering a spinal cord injury implies a new body schema and a change in body awareness. When healthcare professionals are aware of the changes affecting the body after a spinal cord injury, they display more favorable attitudes and are more involved in promoting the patients’ adaptation to their new body schema.

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Fig. 1

Data availability

The datasets generated and/or analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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Author information




MVF was responsible for designing the research protocol and interviews. BRM and MVF performed the data analysis and wrote the manuscript. Both authors approved the final version of the manuscript and the scientific article.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to María Vázquez-Fariñas.

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Conflict of interest

The authors declare no competing interests.


This study was conducted in accordance with the ethical principles of the Declaration of Helsinki. Interview data were anonymized, and all participants signed the informed consent after receiving an understandable and comprehensive explanation of the study aim and procedures. In addition, this study was approved by the Clinical Research Ethics Committee of the National Paraplegic Hospital and by the Medical Management of the center.

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Vázquez-Fariñas, M., Rodríguez-Martin, B. “Living with a fragmented body”: a qualitative study on perceptions about body changes after a spinal cord injury. Spinal Cord 59, 855–864 (2021).

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