Each spinal cord injury is unique and individual, so it is difficult to predict what recovery will look like. For example, the prognosis depends on the severity of the injury.
A complete spinal cord injury is one in which there is a complete disruption of the nerve signals. With a complete injury, the individual has permanent paralysis of one or more limbs, depending on the level at which the damage occurs. An incomplete injury occurs when the cord sustains damage but is still able to relay nerve signals between the brain and the body. According to Medical News Today, a full recovery from this type of injury is unlikely, but there is at least the possibility that the individual may regain some function.
Regardless of the level or severity of spinal cord injury, recovery follows two basic stages.
Hospitalization and critical care
Following a spinal cord injury, the first stage begins immediately and involves providing critical care in a hospital setting. During this stage, it is necessary to keep the spine stable to prevent further injury. This may involve using a special neck brace called a cervical collar.
One of the first priorities during this stage is to make sure the injured individual has a normal heartbeat and can breathe properly. Doctors check to make sure the airways are clear.
At this point, it is necessary to assess the individual’s sensation and ability to move his or her limbs. This provides data about the seriousness of the injury. CT and MRI can provide more information about the severity of the injury. In addition to limiting the damage, the main objective during this stage is to reduce the risk of complications and determine a treatment plan.
The second stage of recovery is rehabilitation. This can take place on an outpatient basis but often happens in a subacute rehab facility where the individual may have to live on a long-term basis. The patient undergoes physical therapy to help improve movement and occupational therapy to relearn how to perform daily activities. If the person recovers any bodily function, which is not always the case, it can take up to 18 months to start seeing some improvement.
A spinal cord injury can have a psychological effect as well as a physical one. Therefore, rehabilitation may involve counseling.