Young white male on a wheelchair

Is there a Link Between Spinal Cord Injury and Hair Loss?


  • Some people with spinal cord injury complain about losing hair on their head and body. 
  • Dermatological conditions, including hair loss, are among the complications of spinal cord injury. 
  • Scientists suspect metabolic changes could be the cause of hair loss. 
  • There are effective treatments for some types of hair loss. 

“I was in a car accident two years ago…. I noticed my hair is receding pretty fast.” This is a common story on online discussion boards for people with spinal cord injuries. Is there a link between spinal cord injury and hair loss? Scientists are trying to find out.

Health Complications Following Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a shock to the whole body. It usually happens in an accident, such as a car crash or sports injury. Depending on the type of injury, an SCI leaves a person partially or completely paralyzed.

Living with spinal cord injury means dealing with a range of health problems. Actor Christopher Reeve talked openly about dealing with pneumonia, infections, and ulcers.

But why hair loss? Hair loss is a dermatological problem, which is common with this disability. These are usually fungal or bacterial infections, but some patients report alopecia (hair loss), too.

Young male on a wheelchair

Special Case of Diffuse Hair Loss

A case study of a 26-year-old man with spinal cord injury described the loss of hair on the head four months after a traumatic accident. Scientists say the symptoms were consistent with “psychogenic telogen effluvium.”

Under that difficult name hides a special type of diffuse hair loss with a psychological component. Telogen effluvium often happens after a sudden change or shock to the body.

Every hair on our head and body goes through the same life cycle:

  • The growing phase (anagen)
  • The regressing phase (catagen)
  • The resting phase (telogen)

When the cycle ends, the hair falls out. In a healthy person, 10 to 15 percent of hair is in the final, resting phase. For people with telogen effluvium, it’s about 30 percent.

Possible Causes of Hair Loss After Spinal Cord Injury

Scientists still don’t understand why people shed more hair after a spinal cord injury. They suspect that intense metabolic changes, such as stress (or pregnancy for women) could mess with the biological clock that controls hair follicle development.

Other triggers leading to diffuse hair loss include:

  • Physiologic stress, for example surgery or illness
  • Emotional stress
  • Medical conditions, such as thyroid problems or inflammatory bowel disease
  • Dietary mistakes, leading to deficiencies in iron or zinc

We need more research to understand hair loss, especially among spinal cord injury patients.

Men's scalp with hair

Is There Treatment for Hair Loss?

Excess hair loss is always a cause for concern. Your doctor should examine you to make sure it’s not connected to serious illness. Hair loss could be linked to thyroid problems or sexually transmitted infections (STIs), for example. Expect to have some blood work done, and possibly STI screening.

With diffuse hair loss, the hair usually starts growing again after a few months. For other types of alopecia, such as male-pattern baldness, treatments are available. Talk to your doctor about Propecia and finasteride, and see if medication can help you stop further hair loss or even regrow what you’ve lost.

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