AD, AB, Invols, Gimpy–A Beginner’s Glossary of Terms for SCI

“I am a complete quad due to a SCI. Sometimes I get dysreflexic when I have to cath or do my bowel program. I need to do pressure relief to avoid skin breakdown. When I transfer, my spasticity may kick in. I really feel gimpy when my quadly hands refuse to cooperate. Finally, most ABs probably haven’t understood this entire paragraph."

Confused yet? Chair users, specifically those of us with spinal cord injuries, have a vocabulary with which able-bodied individuals are unfamiliar. As a brief guide for your next conversation with someone with a spinal cord injury, or if you are new to the club, here is a short glossary of terms that we use all the time-many of them you will not find in the dictionary.

AB noun; plural ABs – abbreviation of able-bodied; a person without a physical disability. Example: “Hey, I need an AB over here to help get something off the top shelf.” Alternate form: TAB, abbreviation for temporarily able-bodied. Not to be confused with “normal.”

Accessible adjective – a state in which a wheelchair or a person with a physical impairment can easily and independently maneuver. Inappropriate use of accessible: “Yes, our restaurant is accessible. We only have one step.” The word accessible replaces the outdated term handicap: accessible parking, accessible bathroom stall.

Autonomic dysreflexia(AD) noun; dysreflexic adjective – the body’s response to a painful or uncomfortable stimulus, typically in persons with a T6 or higher spinal cord injury; increased heart rate and blood pressure, headache, goose bumps, sweating and blurred vision may be symptoms. AD can cause blood pressure to increase to dangerous levels and can cause a stroke, even death, if not treated.Many medical professionals are unfamiliar with AD.Example(of adjective): “I’m dysreflexic. I’ve got to pee so badly!”

Bowel program noun – the method in which a person empties his or her bowels; often times a suppository and/or digital stimulation (see definition below) is required to evacuate the bowels. “I hate Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. I have to get up at 6 a.m. to do my bowel program. It takes about an hour and 15 minutes.”

Cath verb – abbreviation for catheterize;the use of a catheter to empty one’s bladder. Example: “I cath about six times a day.”

Chuck noun – a disposable pad with absorbent material and plastic underside that protects bedding or other surfaces from urine or stool.

Complete/incomplete injury noun – a complete injury refers to no feeling or function below the level of injury; a person with an incomplete injury has some feeling or function below the level of injury. A complete injury does not mean the spinal cord has been physically severed3; very few people actually sever their spinal cords.The ASIA Impairment Scale5 provides a more clearly defined description of complete and incomplete.

Dig stim noun – abbreviation for digital stimulation;the use of a dil stick (see definition) or a gloved, lubricated finger in a circular motion inside the rectum that causes the anal sphincter and bowel muscles to relax and, in turn, allows stool to leave the body.(TMI, I know.)

Dil stick noun – an adaptive device that assists with digital stimulation.

Disabled adjective – related to or having a disability; is not synonymous with handicapped (see below).

Electric chair noun – a device first used in the 1880's to execute inmates and was believed to be more humane than hanging7; not to be confused with a power chair, a means of mobility for some people with disabilities.

Gimp noun – a term of endearment for a fellow wheelchair user or person with a disability; be cautious in using this term if you are an AB.

Gimpy adjective – describing one’s disabled-ness or gimpy-ness.

Handicap noun, handicapped adjective – an offensive term for a person with a disability; the use of disability is preferred. Handicap is derived from an old English game “hand-in-cap” in which two people traded items. An umpire decided if the items being traded were of equal value. Forfeit money was placed in a cap if the values were unequal; if players agreed to the terms, each placed his hand in the cap and pulled it out open, with the umpire getting the forfeit money. The idea of a neutral person valuing a horse’s ability began in the 17th century, with the better horse having to carry more weight (a handicap) to even the odds. The term came to mean a disadvantage that makes success unusually difficult.8,9

Hand controls noun – mechanical devices on a vehicle that allows a person with a disability to control the brake and gas with their upper extremities; hand controls may be a simple push/pull system or a complicated computerized system where a joystick controls the steering, brake and gas.

Invols (abbreviation for involuntary) or accidents noun, plural – when the bladder or bowel revolts and expels its contents unexpectedly. Expletives or despair of life may follow this crappy situation in which one finds him or her self.

Paraplegic noun, para abbr. – a person with impairment in the trunk and lower extremities; typically refers to persons with thoracic-and lumbar-level spinal cord injuries. Honest thoughts from a quadriplegic: “Paras have it made. They can use their hands.”

Person-first terminology – wording used that focuses on the person, not the disability. Example: People with disabilities vs. disabled people.

Pressure relief/weight shift noun – relieving the pressure and weight off one’s rear end or other body part allowing blood flow to maintain healthy tissue and to prevent pressure sores; ideally, pressure relief is done every 15-30 minutes by lifting one’s body, leaning side to side or forward, or tilting backwards in a power chair.10

Pressure sore, skin breakdown noun – a wound that develops when blood flow is reduced or eliminated and causes injury or death to the surrounding tissue10; formerly referred to as a bed sore. Medical term: decubitus ulcer.

SCI/D noun – abbreviation for spinal cord injury/disorder; SCIs are most often caused by a traumatic event or injury; but strokes, tumors and other diseases can also damage the spinal cord.11

Slidingboard/transfer board noun – a plastic or wooden board that is placed under the rear end of its user in order provide a solid surface on which to move; used for getting in/out of bed, vehicles, showers, etc.

Spasms, spasticity noun – uncontrolled movement in the extremities caused by wayward messages in the nervous system; spasms may occur at and/or below the level of injury; severity varies from person to person.12

Tenodesis noun – the use of wrist extensor and flexor muscles in quadriplegics to grip objects; wrist extension causes the thumb and fingers to pull together allowing a quad to pick up an object, while wrist flexion releases the item.

Transfer noun, verb – the act of lifting or moving one’s body (either independently or with assistance) from one place to another. Example: “I’m going to transfer into bed now.”

UTI noun – abbreviation for urinary tract infection; an infection in the bladder, urethra, ureters, or kidneys.13 UTIs were once the leading cause of death for persons with spinal cord injuries.14

Quad belly/para belly/quad pod noun – the protrusion of the abdomen and intestines due to the lack of abdominal muscles in quads and paras. “Miss Jenny, are you pregnant?” “No, that’s just my quad belly.”

Quadriplegic noun, quad abbr.– a person with impairment in all four limbs; does not mean complete loss of arm function; quadriplegics may maintain use of the arms, but not of their hands or fingers. The term tetraplegic is becoming more common in the medical field; the root word plegia is Greek meaning paralysis; quadra is Latin, while tetra is Greek, meaning“four.”

Quadly adjective – appearing or behaving like a quadriplegic. “My quadly hands can’t pick up anything today.”

And these are just the beginning...

C6-7 complete with tendon transfers.Supports cross-cultural workers working in an international non-profit organization. Enjoys rowing, as well as rugby and tennis, cooking and anything nerdy. Injured 7/11/89.

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1.Autonomic dysreflexia. Reeve Foundation. Accessed October 18, 2017.

2.Complete vs. Incomplete. Brain and Spinal Cord. Accessed October 18, 2017. 

3.Learn About Spinal Cord Injury | Spine Injury Information. Accessed October 18, 2017.

4.What Is ASIA Impairment Scale | Answers. Spinal Cord Injury Zone! Published October 1, 2011. Accessed October 18, 2017.

5.My Shepherd Connection. Digital Stimulation -Shepherd Connection. Accessed October 18, 2017.

6.Cavendish R. The First Execution by Electric Chair. History Today. 2015;65(8). Accessed October 18, 2017.

7.Hand-in-cap. Wikipedia. Published April 12, 2017. Accessed October 18, 2017.

8.Handicap. Merriam-Webster. Accessed October 18, 2017.

9.Skin Care & Pressure Sores. Skin Care & Pressure Sores. 2009. Accessed October 18, 2017.

10.What Is Spinal Cord Injury / Disorder (SCI/D)?United Spinal Association. Accessed October 18, 2017.

11.Spinal Cord Injury Complications: Spasms. AbilityLab. Accessed October 18, 2017.

12.Urinary tract infection (UTI). Mayo Clinic. August 25, 2017. Accessed October 18, 2017.

13.Eves FJ, Rivera N. Prevention of urinary tract infections in persons with spinal cord injury in home health care. Home healthcare nurse. Published April 2010. Accessed October 18, 2017.