Is quadriplegic recovery after spinal cord injury possible?
If you injure the cervical region of your spinal cord (the area that makes up your neck), you will experience quadriplegia.
Quadriplegia is paralysis in both the upper and lower body.
This article will explain what factors make quadriplegic recovery possible and share some inspiring recovery stories.
Let’s get started!
What Factors Affect Quadriplegic Recovery Outlook?
The recovery outcomes of every spinal cord injury will vary based on the completeness of injury and how aggressively recovery is pursued.
Severity of Injury
The severity of injury will depend on how complete the spinal cord lesion is.
For example, Lesion A is going to result in more paralysis than Lesion B because more neural pathways are going to be interrupted.
The more paralysis, the more functions will need to be recovered.
As long as the injury is incomplete (the spinal cord is not severed all the way through), recovery is possible.
SCI patients with less severe quadriplegia may be able to move their arms and hands with weakness, while those with more severe quadriplegia may not be able to move their arms at all.
The higher your level of injury, the more parts of your upper body will be affected.
Spinal cord injury rehabilitative therapies generally consist of physical and occupational therapy.
Physical therapy will use exercise to strengthen your muscles, improve range of motion, and build endurance.
Some people with incomplete quadriplegia may still be able to move parts of their legs or torso and will need physical therapy to improve those functions.
Occupational therapy will teach you how to adjust to everyday life after inpatient rehab by focusing on activities of daily living like eating, toileting, and grooming.
Those with more severe quadriplegia will likely need a caregiver to help them with these activities, while those with less severe quadriplegia may just need to learn how to use adaptive tools and shift their body weight.
Generally, the most recovery progress is seen within the first 6 to 12 months after injury.
This is because the central nervous system is at an increased state of plasticity after an SCI.
However, incomplete spinal cord injury recovery is always possible if you’re willing to put in the work.
Even after that period of increased plasticity, your central nervous system is still capable of adapting and rewiring itself.
Many spinal cord injury patients continue to see results years after their injury.
You might be in for a surprise if you experience spinal shock following your spinal cord injury.
Spinal shock is when you temporarily lose all functions below your level of injury due to swelling of the spinal cord.
If your spinal cord swells too much, it can cut off blood flow to areas below the injury, causing the loss of functions.
Once the swelling starts to die down, functions will gradually return and you will have a better indication of what you can and can’t control.
It’s important to consider spinal shock following a spinal cord injury because many people believe they have complete injuries due to the total loss of function; it isn’t until functions start to return that they find out it was spinal shock and that they actually have incomplete SCIs.
Quadriplegic Recovery Stories
Need to see recovery from quadriplegia to believe it? Check out these 2 recovery stories!
Hayden’s Quadriplegia Recovery Story
Hayden sustained a C4 spinal cord injury after getting tackled in a football game.
He was paralyzed from his shoulders down and had to undergo surgery to stabilize his spinal cord.
After three and a half months in an intensive rehabilitation program, he was able to walk again.
Kedar’s Quadriplegia Recovery Story
Kedar’s cervical spinal cord injury left him paralyzed from the chest down.
The video above shows his rehabilitation progress over three years.
He gradually transitions from using a wheelchair to standing, from standing to training on parallel bars, from parallel bars to using a walker, and from walker to elbow crutches.
Slowly, he was weaned off assistive devices and learned to walk on his own.
Kedar proves that even years after spinal cord injury, recovery is possible if you continue to work at it diligently.
Understanding Spinal Cord Injury Recovery
One of the most crucial parts of recovering from quadriplegia is to be aware of your body.
This means keeping track of returning sensations or movements and developing them through massed practice.
Every time you move, a set of neural pathways go off together. The more you repeat that movement, the stronger the pathways get, and the more comfortable the movement becomes.
Essentially, you’re retraining your body, brain, and spinal cord to work in sync again.
Although the spinal cord cannot heal itself after injury, it is capable of rewiring and reconstructing neural circuitries through axonal sprouting from undamaged neurons. This allows functions affected by SCI to be significantly improved.
Hopefully, this article helped you understand what makes recovery from quadriplegia possible. Good luck!
Featured image: ©iStock.com/Antonio_Diaz