Is walking after spinal cord injury possible? What are the best treatments to walk again after spinal cord injury? Learning to walk after spinal cord injury isn’t easy, but it’s definitely possible.
The spinal cord has neuroplasticity and can rewire itself to recover functions like walking.
You’re about to learn what to expect when learning how to walk again and the best treatments for boosting mobility after spinal cord injury.
Let’s get started!
How Long Does It Take to Walk After Spinal Cord Injury?
Generally, the most physical recovery occurs within the first 6 months after spinal cord injury because the spinal cord experiences a heightened state of plasticity. However, many spinal cord injury patients learn how to walk after those initial 6 months because the spinal cord is always capable of adapting.
There are many factors that can speed up or slow down your recovery after spinal cord injury.
Walking recovery mainly depends on the location and severity of your injury but your diet, pre-existing health conditions, mental health, and physical activity levels can also contribute.
Think of your recovery holistically. The better you take care of your overall health, the more physically and mentally prepared you will be to pursue rehabilitation.
How the Level and Severity of Your Spinal Cord Injury Predict Chances of Walking Again
Because higher levels of injury are associated with more widespread paralysis, learning to walk again will take longer.
For example, a spinal cord injury around your neck may leave you paralyzed from the neck down. Rather than recovering walking, individuals with this type of spinal cord injury will want to focus on recovering arm functions first.
However, if you injure a lower area of the spinal cord like the lumbar region, your arm and trunk functions will be completely normal and will only need to focus on rehabilitating leg functions.
Incomplete spinal cord lesions indicate that some connections between the brain and body below the level of injury have been spared.
Through this, neuroplasticity can be utilized to rewire the neural circuitry of the spinal cord and recover walking.
Treatments to Walk Again After a Spinal Cord Injury
Let’s take a look at some promising treatments to walk again after a spinal cord injury.
Keep in mind that every spinal cord injury recovery is unique. What works for one person may not work for another.
1. Physical Therapy
As far as treatments to walk again after spinal cord injury go, physical therapy is probably the most important.
The more aggressively you pursue physical therapy, the greater your chances of recovery.
Spinal cord injury disrupts your brain-body connection and you need to teach your body how to walk again.
Learning to walk after spinal cord injury requires lots of repetition. It’s the only way to get your body, spinal cord, and brain working in sync again.
The more you practice, the stronger the neural pathways get and the more familiar the movements become.
Spinal cord injury exercises are essential for keeping your body in the best condition to recover.
It keeps your blood flow regular, helps get more oxygen to the brain, boosts your mood, and keeps muscles toned to support your weight and keep you balanced.
2. Locomotor Training / Gait Training
Locomotor training is a type of physical therapy that specifically focuses on learning to walk again after spinal cord injury.
Though this type of gait training, you’ll learn how to balance, build strength, and develop muscle memory in the legs.
Locomotor training utilizes a lot of different equipment such as weight-supporting treadmills, parallel bars, braces, walkers, and crutches to make the transition easier.
It’s effective because it’s task-specific and emphasizes repetition.
3. Electrical Stimulation
Another way patients are walking again after spinal cord injury is with the help of epidural electrical stimulation.
The process involves implanting an electrode array onto your spinal column. It sends electrical currents that mimic brain signals to areas below your level of injury to stimulate muscle movement.
Even patients with motor complete spinal cord injuries have been able to move again with the help of electrical stimulation.
It’s important to understand that although electrical stimulation is stimulating the movements, intensive physical therapy is necessary relearn how to walk.
It’s the combination of electrical stimulation plus physical training that allows recovery.
Watch the video below to see 3 patients who’ve taught themselves how to walk again after spinal cord injury with the help of electrical stimulation.
4. Stem Cell Treatment
One of the most promising treatments to walk again after a spinal cord injury is stem cell treatments.
Stem cells are exciting because of their ability to divide infinitely and differentiate into various types of cells.
Just like electrical stimulation, stem cell treatment for spinal cord injury recovery is still being researched and developed.
The goals behind stem cell therapy for spinal cord injury recovery include:
- Replacing cell damage
- Finding the optimal source of stem cells to use
- Restoring neural circuitry
- Determining the optimal time frame for treatment
- Stabilizing the microenvironment (reducing inflammation, scarring, and oxidative stress to minimize damage)
Can Someone with Spinal Cord Injury Walk Again?
See for yourself! Below are some videos of real patients who are now walking after spinal cord injury.
Meet Daquan Minor, a teenager who got a T6 incomplete spinal cord injury after being in a car accident.
With lots of hope and determination, Daquan learned how to walk again through intensive physical therapy.
“Nobody was telling me I was going to walk again but nobody was telling me I wouldn’t, and that’s what kept me going.”
Even when chances of walking after spinal cord injury were slim, Daquan stayed hopeful and was able to pull through.
This is Kedar Nath Senapati.
He suffered a cervical spinal cord injury and was paralyzed from his chest down.
This video documents his 3 years of learning how to walk again after spinal cord injury.
As you just saw, he went through various stages (learning how to stand, using the parallel bars, transitioning to crutches, etc.) to be able to walk independently.
Recovering walking after spinal cord injury is a long journey so be patient, trust in the process, and celebrate every little step.
Final Thoughts About Walking After Spinal Cord Injury
Hopefully, this article inspires you to stay positive and work hard towards your recovery.
It won’t come quick or easy, but it will be worth it.
We highly encourage you to document your recovery process with pictures and videos. They’ll help remind you of how far you’ve come and keep you motivated.
Featured image: ©iStock.com/apeyron