How to Recover From A Spinal Cord Injury
July 24, 2018 by: Luis M. Tumialán, MD
The spinal cord is undoubtedly one of the most important parts of our body. Protected within our spine, it is the main pathway for messages to be sent between our brain and body enabling us to experience sensations and move our limbs and extremities at will. If our spinal cord becomes injured, it can have serious and even life-changing consequences, some of which can be temporary while others are permanent.
The exact prognosis for a spinal cord injury varies largely depending on the type and severity of the injury, which usually falls into one of two categories. These are:
Complete spinal cord injuries
These are injuries in which the signals that usually travel up and down the spinal cord have been compromised, and this causes the patient to experience a loss of motor and sensory function below the level of the injury.
Incomplete spinal cord injuries
These refer to injuries to the spine where there are still some signals being passed along the spinal cord, even if they aren’t completely accurate. As a result, the patient still has some motor and sensory function below the level of injury.
Recovery from a spinal cord injury
Fortunately, spinal cord injuries are now more treatable than ever before, meaning that recovering full function and feeling in your body is indeed possible.
The vast majority of the recovery process occurs within the first six months after your injury occurred. This means that any loss of motor function or sensation that you have experienced may well improve during this time. In fact, some people experience small improvements in their condition within the first two years. Unfortunately, any loss of sensation or function that is present beyond the 12-month milestone after your injury is more likely to become permanent, but your spinal specialist will be able to give you a more definite prognosis for your recovery.
By finding a great spine specialist and following the recommendations made to you by your professional, you can significantly increase the likelihood that you will make a good recovery from your spine injury.
Nevertheless, there are still a few other factors that will be essential to your recovery.
Why physical therapy is essential to recover from a spinal injury
Any good spine specialist will strongly recommend that you commence physical therapy as quickly as possible. While many patients think that it is just a form of exercise, it actually helps to rewire your nervous system and can even help empower your brain to work around the site of the injury. It will help to strengthen the muscles in your back and other areas of your body and encourage the flow of blood to the damaged area which can help expedite the healing process.
Surgery may be necessary
Surgery is never an option that is considered lightly. However, if there are problems with your spine that can be corrected using surgery and this is your best chance to make a recovery from your injury, your surgeon will almost certainly strongly advocate for you to go ahead with the procedure. This surgery may be performed immediately after your injury, or at a later time. The main type of surgery that may be beneficial is decompression of the spinal cord (since compression could be blocking the flow of messages between the brain and body). It will also be necessary for your surgeon to stabilize your spine to prevent further pain, deformity and later neurological problems.
Use pain relief as directed
Pain is a very tricky sensation. Not only does it cause actual physical discomfort, but it can also have a profound effect on your emotional wellbeing. Experiencing pain can cause disrupted sleep patterns, anxiety, depression, anger and other psychological problems that can impact on your ability to heal and recover.
Many patients try and hold off on taking pain medications until they are in too much discomfort to cope without them. However, this is not recommended since being in pain can have such a negative effect on your mood and attitude. Instead, it is strongly recommended that you take your prescribed pain relief exactly as directed.
Your chances of recovery are improved if you have a positive mental attitude
It is just as important for you to make a psychological recovery as it is a physical one, and, continuing on from the advice above, one of the best ways to do this is to have a positive mental attitude. Studies have shown that although spinal cord injuries are challenging, determination and positivity can go a long way to supporting your total recovery. There are many ways in which a positive mental attitude can help. For example, you will be more inclined to complete your physical therapy, even on days where you are tired, and it is the last thing that you feel like doing.
Our spine specialist and subsequent support network of professionals will be on hand to encourage and help you every step of the way, so don’t be afraid to rely on them throughout your recovery. Contact us to schedule a consultation.
If you are struggling with pain, weakness, loss of function, or other symptoms of spinal complications, contact Dr. Tumialán's office today.