Signs of recovery from spinal cord injury can be hard to spot. You can repeat the same actions endlessly and still feel like nothing is changing.
Every spinal cord injury and recovery from it is unique.
To expect that what works for one person will work just as well for you is unrealistic because there are so many factors that determine recovery.
Factors like medical history, injury site, injury severity, and overall health all contribute to recovery speed.
The longer you go on without seeing any improvements, the less likely it is that you’ll continue to heal so be grateful for even the smallest changes.
You could be recovering and not even notice it.
Are you looking out for these physical and mental signs of recovery?
Physical Signs of Recovery from Spinal Cord Injury:
After spinal cord injury, your spinal cord may go into spinal shock. This is when inflammation occurs which causes a temporary decrease of sensory or motor functions and loss of reflexes.
Spinal shock can last anywhere from days to weeks, but typically lasts around 4-6 weeks before functions and reflexes gradually return.
After spinal shock, you’ll have a better idea of what you actually can and can’t control.
Through intensive physical and occupational therapy, you’ll be working on things like balance, muscle tone, gait training, and flexibility.
Pain after spinal cord injury is normal, but another good sign to look out for is reduced pain.
An improvement in any single one of these factors is a huge sign of physical recovery. You’ll notice how much easier it becomes to carry out everyday actions like reaching for a pen or tying your shoes.
Different Ways to Measure Recovery:
Most spinal cord injury patients will recover at least a couple levels of muscle movement.
For example, you can go from having a T4 injury and recover it to a T5 injury.
You might think that moving down only 1 level of your spine is not much, but it’s actually amazing progress!
Think about it, the fact that you can regain feeling and voluntary control over a part of our body that you previously couldn’t is a pretty big deal.
Soon enough, that T5 injury can become a T6 injury and so on.
There are lots of ways to measure your recovery from spinal cord injury.
You can go from:
- having complete to incomplete SCI
- AIS B to AIS C on the ASIA impairment scale
- being wheelchair dependent to walker dependent
- being tetraplegic to paraplegic
The list goes on and on. The point is, sometimes you don’t even notice the signs of your recovery because you’re too concerned about being able to walk again.
This is where you need to change your mentality.
Mental Signs of Recovery from Spinal Cord Injury:
Big goals are made up of a bunch of little goals so celebrate even the smallest of victories.
It’s easy to be discouraged by spinal cord injury, but you can’t improve unless you get past that mental block and start thinking positively.
A Practical Analogy: Weight Loss
Let’s say you want to lose 20 pounds.
From there, you make little goals like lose 5 pounds, then another 5, then another 5.
You plan to reach these little goals by eating healthier and increasing exercise.
Thing is, losing 20 pounds is a lot of hard work not just physically, but mentally.
You must constantly fight cravings, lack of motivation, and laziness. It’s one of those things that are much easier said than done.
Now let’s say you finally lose 20 pounds. Your journey is not quite over because there’s maintenance.
You can’t just go back to eating the way you used to or else you’re just going to gain the weight back.
You can be a little bit more flexible about what you eat and how much you exercise, but overall, you still need to practice the actions that helped you achieve the goal.
Let’s relate this back to spinal cord injury recovery:
For example, your big goal might be to be able to stand again and your little goals will consist of being able to bend your knees, raise your leg, and develop balance.
How will you do this? By regularly going to physical therapy and practicing leg movements or balance exercises. By eating healthy to ensure that your body has good quality fuel to heal.
Take the time to create a game plan for your goals because it further embeds the process into your mind.
You accomplish small goals quicker than big goals, so they transform your mindset, keeping you excited and motivated to keep going.
The 1st Step to Recovery is to Develop a Positive Mindset:
You need to recover mentally to recover physically. Without a hopeful mentality, you won’t have the motivation or willpower to take spinal cord injury recovery into your own hands.
To have one without the other is like having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without the peanut butter.
Mental and physical signs of recovery from spinal cord injury build off each other. How?
It all starts with a positive mindset. This will kickstart your willingness to go to physical therapy and seek treatment, which will lead to physical improvement. Physical improvement will boost your mental perception of recovery and empower you to work harder.
You really can’t develop one without the other because they’re both equally important.