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Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Time: What Factors Affect It?

incomplete spinal cord injury recovery time

Incomplete spinal cord injury recovery time depends on many different factors.

Because every spinal cord injury is unique, there’s no exact time frame for recovery.

This article will go over incomplete spinal cord injury recovery outlook and factors that can significantly affect recovery time. 

Complete vs. Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Time

doctor looking at x ray to see how long does incomplete spinal cord injury recovery time take

There’s a major difference between complete and incomplete spinal cord injury recovery outlook.

With complete spinal cord injuries, all connections between the brain and areas innervated below the level of injury have been severed.

In contrast, incomplete spinal cord injuries result in spared neural connections, which means there’s hope for recovery!

While damaged neurons cannot heal, spared neurons are capable of neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is the central nervous system’s ability to rewire itself so that damaged functions can potentially be relearned.  The best way to promote it is through repetitive movements.

The more you repeat weak movements, the stronger those neural connections get, and the easier the movements become.

Generally speaking, the more severed the spinal cord becomes after injury, the longer incomplete spinal cord injury recovery will take, as the nervous system has more work to do.

But this is just a rule of thumb. No one can say with certainty how long it will take to recover from an incomplete spinal cord injury, because every recovery is different.

Now that you understand that incomplete spinal cord injury recovery is possible, let’s discuss how long it takes.

Is Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Time Limited?

how long does incomplete sci recovery take

When it comes to incomplete spinal cord injury recovery, most people experience the greatest amount of recovery within the first 6 months to a year following their injury.

After a spinal cord injury, the spinal cord experiences a temporarily heightened state of plasticity, which makes it easier to relearn functions.

However, it’s a myth that incomplete spinal cord injury recovery time is limited to that first year.

No matter how long ago it was injured, your spinal cord is always capable of rewiring itself.

While recovery might slow down, it’s still possible if you’re willing to perform the repetitions.

Your central nervous system is constantly adapting. When you stimulate it through repetitive movements, it understands that there’s a demand for that function and rewires itself.

Incomplete spinal cord injury recovery time is not linear, so be patient. Many people will continue to see results years after their injury.

Factors That Affect Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Time

Many factors can affect incomplete spinal cord injury recovery time. 

Some factors will be completely out of your control while others will heavily rely on the choices you make on a daily basis. 

1. Severity of Injury

Severity of injury plays a huge role in determining incomplete spinal cord injury recovery time.

Studies suggest that the less significant the initial loss of function, the better the recovery outlook.

This is primarily because fewer functional impairments are associated with less nerve damage.

To help you visualize how the severity of injury affects incomplete spinal cord injury recovery time, let’s compare the two spinal cord lesions below:

comparing factors that can affect incomplete spinal cord injury recovery time

Lesion A is going to result in much more sensorimotor impairments than Lesion B because more nerve fibers are affected.

The more spared neural connections you have, the greater the recovery potential.

2. Level of Injury

Another significant factor that determines incomplete spinal cord injury recovery time is the level of injury.

The higher your spinal cord injury is located, the more areas of your body will be affected and the longer it will take to fully recover.

diagram showing how level of injury affects incomplete spinal cord injury recovery time

For example, let’s say there are 2 people with incomplete spinal cord injuries of similar severities.

The main difference is that one has a C5 injury (paralysis from the shoulders down) while the other has an L3 injury (paralysis from the knees down).

The person with the L3 spinal cord injury is more likely to recover faster because there are fewer functions to recover.

3. Stabilization of the Spinal Cord Immediately After Injury

The majority of damage after an SCI doesn’t come from the injury itself, but rather from secondary processes.

After a spinal cord injury, your immune system releases an inflammatory response to stabilize the microenvironment. This results in swelling, cell deaths, and reduced blood flow.

Too much swelling of the spinal cord can cause spinal shock, which results in a temporary loss of reflexes below your level of injury.

Although temporary, spinal shock can last for a few months.

To reduce incomplete spinal cord injury recovery time, it’s critical to minimize the effects of secondary injury through immediate medical attention.

4. Co-Occurring Health Problems

Other health problems can also impact incomplete spinal cord injury recovery time.

If you have additional health problems like respiratory complications or chronic pain, it can be extremely difficult to be consistent with physical therapy.

Similarly, sleep complications and medications for other conditions may affect your mood and energy levels.

5. Physical Activity Levels

The more you move, the better your chances of incomplete spinal cord injury recovery are.

Spinal cord injury can impair a lot of motor control, so many patients become very sedentary.

When you don’t move enough, your physical and mental health is not optimal.

Your metabolic rate will slow down and your blood pressure will decrease, which will lower the supply of oxygen-rich blood to your major organ systems.

When your body doesn’t get enough oxygen, it will start to dysfunction.

The only way to recover from incomplete spinal cord injury is to practice moving.

Prospective SCI treatments like epidural stimulation and stem cell therapy all require intensive physical training that focuses on task-specific, high-repetition movements to promote neurological adaptations. 

6. What Your Diet Consists Of

Consuming healthy, nutrient-dense foods will properly fuel your body for incomplete spinal cord injury recovery.

The types of foods you eat significantly affect your mood and energy levels.

Eating too many greasy or sugary foods can contribute to the development of even more health problems, which can further delay incomplete spinal cord injury recovery time.

7. Mental Health

Lastly, incomplete spinal cord injury recovery time can be impacted by your mental health status.

If you’re not motivated to work towards recovery, you’re likely not going to perform the repetitions necessary to see improvements.

Incomplete spinal cord injury recovery is both a physical and mental challenge.

If you keep thinking that you’re not improving, you won’t try as hard or you’ll give up altogether.

But if you stay hopeful and optimistic, you’ll work harder to recover and see results.

We highly recommend documenting your progress through pictures, videos, or journal entries so that you’ll have a visual representation of your progress.

Incomplete spinal cord injury can take years and years. Not every day will be easy but getting past your mental blocks is crucial to a successful recovery.

We believe that if you’re willing to put in the work, there’s always hope for recovery.

Incomplete Spinal Cord Recovery Time: Key Points

Every incomplete spinal cord injury recovery is different because every body is different.

Genetics, how we think, what we eat, and how we exercise can all affect how quickly or slowly recovery occurs.  Instead of focusing on the ambiguities, turn your focus to the factors that you can control.

Every incomplete spinal cord injury patient has spared neural pathways that are capable of adapting. The best way to optimize SCI recovery time is through massed practice. 

Recovery timing varies for everyone, so it’s essential to stay patient and trust in the process. As long as you’re stimulating those spared connections, improvements are possible. 

Hopefully, this article helped you better understand how different factors can affect incomplete spinal cord injury recovery time. Good luck!

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