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Crucial Factors That Affect Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Time

incomplete spinal cord injury recovery time

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

Every spinal cord injury is a little bit different, so 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 incomplete spinal cord injury xray to determine recovery time

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

With complete spinal cord injuries, all connections between the brain and body have been severed.

With incomplete spinal cord injuries, some connections still exist! 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.

Is Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Time Limited?

is there a window of time to recover from spinal cord injury

There’s a myth that the spinal cord can only recover for a limited amount of time and after that, you’re as good as you’re ever going to get.

So what’s the time frame for recovery? 6 months? 1 year?

We want to clarify that none of it is true. You can always work on recovery for spinal cord injury!

While recovery might slow down, it’s still possible if you’re willing to put in the work.

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. The key is to not give up!

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 smaller the initial loss of nerve function, the better the recovery outlook.

Let’s compare the two spinal cord lesions below.

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.

Generally, the milder the spinal cord injury, the quicker the recovery time.

2. Level of Injury

Level of injury refers to the location of injury.

The higher up the spinal cord your injury, the more areas of your body will be affected.

You can go recover from a C5 spinal cord injury to a C6 spinal cord injury, but you can’t go from a C5 to an L3 right away.

You have to recover gradually, which is why it will take longer to fully recover from a higher-level injury.

After a spinal cord injury, you have to reteach your body how to move.

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 spinal cord injury doesn’t come from the injury itself, but instead from secondary processes.

The initial damage to the spinal cord will trigger your spinal cord to go into defense mode. This will result in swelling, cell deaths, and reduced blood flow.

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

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

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

4. Other Health Problems

Your overall health can also impact incomplete spinal cord injury recovery time.

If you have additional health problems like poor respiratory functions or chronic pain, it can be extremely difficult to be consistent with your physical therapy and perform the repetitions you need.

5. Physical Activity

The more you move, the greater your chances of recovery are.

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

When you don’t move enough, your 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.

Additionally, the only way to recover from spinal cord injury is to practice moving.

All spinal cord injury treatments in progress like epidural stimulation and stem cell therapy require intense physical training.

Intensive physical training focuses on performing task-specific, high-repetition movements to promote neurological adaptations. 

6. Diet

What you eat matters!

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

You want to eat healthy, nutrient-dense foods that will properly fuel your body for recovery.

Eating too many greasy or sugary foods can contribute to the develop of  even more health problems, which can further delay recovery time.

7. Mentality

If you’re not motivated to work towards recovery, you’re not going to recover as quickly.

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 spinal cord injury 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. 

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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