Waking up in the hospital after an accident and being told that you’ve suffered a Spinal Cord Injury can be an overwhelming experience. A Spinal Cord Injury can lead to extensive and long-lasting loss of bodily functions. Recovery, however, is possible with time and the right treatment. Here, we offer a quick guide on recovery after Spinal Cord Injury, the various stages, and treatment options.
Understanding Spinal Cord Injury
A Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) involves mutilation to the Spinal Cord that causes reversible or irreversible changes in its functions. Symptoms may include the loss of muscle function and sensation, or autonomic function in the parts of the body connected by the spinal cord — this may happen below the place of the injury. The most common causes of a Spinal Cord Injury involve accidents or violent impacts from physical activities. Treatment typically involves a tailored regenerative rehabilitation program that includes Stem Cell Therapy, Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, and other procedures as the doctor deems necessary. Depending on whether or not nerve signals are still capable of travelling through to other parts of the body, a Spinal Cord Injury may be incomplete or complete. Although a study of these cases show that, chances of Spinal Cord Injury recovery are better with an incomplete injury.
Symptoms of Spinal Cord Injury
When an individual has suffered serious head or neck trauma, the chances of a Spinal Cord Injury are high. It is essential to secure medical attention as quickly as possible to ensure a faster Spinal Cord Injury recovery. Symptoms include:
- An oddly twisted head or neck
- Loss of sensation in the limbs
- Exaggerated reflexes in the limbs
- Numbness or altered sensation
- A strong stinging sensation
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Difficulty with coughing or breathing
- Extreme pain or pressure in the head or neck
However, symptoms might not always be obvious, therefore, it is vital to see a doctor as soon as the injury occurs.
Complications of Spinal Cord Injury
Much of the time, a Spinal Cord Injury can lead to secondary conditions. These arise from changes in the way organ systems function owing to nerve damage. Common complications that healthcare teams look out for include:
- Pressure ulcers, especially in people who develop paralysis
- Chronic pain
- Muscle spasms
- Deep vein thrombosis
- Blood clots
- Urinary tract infections
- Kidney infections
- Autonomic dysreflexia
- Respiratory conditions like pneumonia
- Mental health conditions like depression
- Sexual dysfunction
Doctors will typically prescribe separate treatment options to prevent or cure these secondary conditions.
Stages of Recovery after Spinal Cord Injury
The extent of recovery from a Spinal Cord Injury can vary greatly from patient to patient. In general, the first year after the injury is the most critical for determining how well the patient can recover. This is also when the risk of mortality is highest for the patient. Typically, one can expect to go through the following Spinal Cord Injury recovery stages:
- First Stage: This is immediately after the injury occurs and when the patient is in hospital. The doctor will check that the patient is able to breathe normally and test for sensation and movement in the limbs. They will then stabilize the spine, if needed, and run tests such as a CT scan or MRI to assess the extent of the Spinal Cord damage.
- Second Stage: This refers to the days and weeks following the initial stabilization, during which focus will be on minimizing damage and avoiding secondary complications as far as possible. This is also when the doctor starts planning long-term care for the patient depending on what their symptoms are.
- Third Stage: This is the rehabilitation stage, which can last years, following the injury. Patients may be asked to come into the rehabilitation clinic every day or to live in a subacute rehabilitation center. The doctor and the caregivers will continually monitor for any complications as well as signs of improvement. In some cases, the doctor may conduct surgery to correct any deformities or internal injuries.
- Fourth Stage: This involves continued rehabilitation after the initial critical period, during which the patient may make further improvements. In most cases, the patient will have to continue rehabilitation for several years. While some may show signs of Spinal Cord Injury recovery sooner, others may take years to get there.
At present, there is no way to reverse a Spinal Cord Injury, although there is ongoing research on how to enable nerve cell regeneration for better healing. Patients with a Spinal Cord Injury will typically need an extensive rehabilitation program that starts almost immediately after the injury has been stabilized. It can be difficult for a doctor to say right away how well a patient will recover. Steady treatment will certainly reduce the risk of further complications and improve functionality over time. The components of a Spinal Cord Injury treatment program include:
- Physical Therapy: This involves exercises that rewire the nervous system to work around the injury and restore as much function as possible. The focus is on improving fine motor skills and strengthening the muscles.
- Occupational Therapy: This involves training the patient to use a range of assistive devices to accomplish daily tasks, such as wheelchairs, prosthetics, specialized eating utensils, and communication devices.
- Speech Therapy: This involves exercises to train the tongue and mouth muscles for proper speech and swallowing.
- Vocational Therapy: This involves preparing the patient for re-integration into the workplace and social activities, while making adjustments for the Spinal Cord Injury.
Medication: The doctor can prescribe medication to assist with specific complications such as bladder / bowel problems or sexual dysfunction.
Living with Spinal Cord Injury
Patients who have suffered a Spinal Cord Injury may experience considerable impediments to their movement and may struggle to perform tasks normally. Some may require round-the-clock care with assistance for basic activities like eating and bathing. This can be extremely frustrating, but it is important to maintain hope and continue diligently with treatment. Some of the lifestyle choices patients can make to ease the recovery journey include:
- Connecting with family and loved ones for emotional support
- Seeking counseling to work through the pressure of recovery
- Choosing a caregiver who is empathetic and understanding
- Engaging in enjoyable activities such as going to the park or a favorite restaurant
- Maintaining emotional wellness through outlets such as meditation, yoga, or acupuncture
- Are Spinal Cord Injuries permanent?
An incomplete Spinal Cord Injury will typically improve over time, although a full recovery is rare. Complete Spinal Cord Injuries tend to be permanent.
- Why are Spinal Injuries so serious?When the Spinal Cord is damaged, the nerves that convey messages from the brain to the rest of the body cannot work properly. This can lead to loss of sensation or movement below the site of the injury or even complete paralysis.
- Can Spinal Cord Injuries affect the brain?Research shows that a Spinal Cord Injury can lead to sustained inflammation in the brain, which can damage the nerve cells and lead to cognitive and emotional decline.
- How do Spinal Cord Injuries cause death?Spinal Cord Injuries lead to multiple complications that can potentially be fatal, such as a Pulmonary Embolism, Pneumonia, Septicemia, and diseases of the urinary tract.
- Which medicine is best for the Spinal Cord?Medicines such as Corticosteroid Drugs are essential to reduce the inflammation immediately after a Spinal Cord Injury and prevent long-term damage as much as possible. Doctors may also conduct surgery as needed.
- Can a Spinal Cord Injury get worse?In general, the pain and fatigue associated with movement after a Spinal Cord Injury can get worse over time. In particular, overused muscles from doing wheelchair transfers and manoeuvres can cause problems.
- Why do Spinal Cord Injuries not heal?The scar tissue that forms after a Spinal Cord Injury, as well as certain molecular processes within the nerves, tends to inhibit the regeneration of the long nerve fibers. This means that a Spinal Cord Injury is nearly impossible to heal.
- What are the top four causes of death in Spinal Cord patients?
The most common causes of death in patients with a Spinal Cord Injury include Pneumonia, Heart Disease, Septicemia, and suicide.
- What are the complications of Spinal Cord Injury?
A Spinal Cord Injury can lead to various complications in multiple organ systems, including respiratory problems, Osteoporosis, pressure sores, urinary tract infections, chronic pain, and sexual dysfunction.
- What is the most severe injury to the Spinal Cord?
The most severe level of Spinal Cord Injury is a C1-C4 cervical Spinal Cord Injury. It leads to limited movement or even complete paralysis below the head and neck, as well as difficulty in breathing and speaking.
- What are the worst back injuries?
The most severe form of back injury is a fracture dislocation, in which the bones are broken and the ligaments are torn too, causing the bones to slide away from each other.
In conclusion, while the road to recovery after Spinal Cord Injury is a long one, it is important to stay positive and follow treatment recommendations exactly as the doctor prescribes. New treatments are being discovered every day and the support of loved ones can have a significant impact. Spinal Cord Injury patients, therefore, have a lot to be hopeful about.