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Signs of Recovery from Spinal Cord Injury: Assessing Your Progress

how to identify the signs of recovery from spinal cord injury

Signs of recovery from spinal cord injury can be hard to spot. You can repeat the same therapeutic procedures many times and still feel like nothing is changing.

Every spinal cord injury and its recovery process 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, age, and overall health all contribute to recovery speed.

You could be recovering and not even notice it.

Are you looking out for these physical and mental signs of recovery from spinal cord injury?

Physical Signs of Recovery from Spinal Cord Injury

Working on your flexibilty, muscle tone, walking, and balance will help make it easier for you to carry out everyday actions. Small improvements are still big signs of recovery.

After spinal cord injury, your spinal cord may go into spinal shock. This is when inflammation occurs which causes a temporary loss of sensory or motor functions below your level of injury.

Spinal shock can persist from days to weeks, but typically resolves around 4-6 weeks after which functions may gradually start to 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 improve your balance, muscle tone, mobility, and flexibility. Rehabilitation training will help stimulate your nervous system and promote motor control.

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An improvement in any single one of these symptoms is a huge sign of physical recovery from spinal cord injury:

1. Pain

When it comes to spinal cord injury recovery, it’s better to feel something than nothing at all (even pain).

It indicates that your neural circuits are working!

If your pain after spinal cord injury is unbearable, ask your doctor about medications that can help relieve pain like NSAIDs, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and opioids.

2. Spasticity

During spinal shock, your muscles go flaccid and lose tone.

As your body starts to recover and spinal shock resolve, your muscles tend to become spastic (a state of over-active contractions).

Don’t freak out if you experience spasticity. Spasticity is a sign of recovery from spinal cord injury!

Like pain after spinal cord injury, it’s an indicator of your neural circuits reawakening or recircuiting.

Keep stretching and exercising spastic muscles and eventually, spasticity will decrease. If spasticity is severe, talk to your doctor and/or therapists about other treatment options.

3. Tingling

Mild tingling means that impulses from your sensory receptors are reaching the brain.

Keep training areas where you feel even the slightest sensations to strengthen those neural pathways!

Different Ways to Measure Physical Recovery:

Sign of recovery from spinal cord injury can be hard to spot because they're not always visible. There are so many bodily processes that occur after SCI, all working to repair what it can.

Some spinal cord injury patients will recover at least a couple levels of muscle movement.

For example, you can recover a T4 injury to a T5 injury, which presents with less impaired functions.

You might think that improving in only 1 level of your spine is not much, but it’s actually amazing progress!

Think about it, the fact that you can regain sensation and voluntary control over a part of your body that you previously couldn’t is a big deal.

Soon enough, that T5 injury may improve to a T6 injury and so on.

There are lots of ways to measure your recovery from spinal cord injury.

You can progress from:

  • AIS B to AIS C on the ASIA impairment scale
  • being wheelchair dependent to walker dependent
  • requiring full assistance with all tasks to becoming more independent

The list goes on and on. The point is, sometimes you don’t even notice the signs of recovery from spinal cord injury 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

Mental signs of recovery from spinal cord injury are just as important as the physical. In fact, it all starts with a positive mindset and willingness to work hard.

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.

1. Acceptance

Especially at the beginning, coming to terms with your body after spinal cord injury is tough.

It can require a lot of lifestyle changes, which is why depression after SCI is extremely common.

The first mental sign of recovery is accepting the present condition after the injury and moving forward.

It’s okay to grieve. Let it all out! But at some point, you need to change your mindset.

When you’re ready to move on and start looking for new ways to enjoy the things you love, you’ll realize that you can still live a very fulfilling life even after SCI.

2. Goal Setting

It’s a good sign if you acknowledge your big and little recoveries.

This means that you’re motivated, hopeful, and can visualize your recovery.

When you only set big goals, you leave a lot of time in between to get discouraged and quit.

Setting and achieving lots of smaller goals will help keep you aware of your accomplishments.

3. Appreciation for the Process

It’s easy to get caught up in what’s not improving, but that won’t benefit you at all.

Staying positive is a good sign of mental recovery.

Consider keeping a recovery journal or video recording your progress so that when you get discouraged, you can reference how much has actually changed.

Reminding yourself to be thankful for where you started, how far you’ve come, and where you’ll be in the future will keep you from being discouraged.

Signs of Recovery from Spinal Cord Injury

The key to recovery from spinal cord injury is to just keep going! It all starts with a hopeful mindset, which will lead to physical progress and even more mental progress. They develop off one another!

Physical and mental signs of recovery from spinal cord injury build off one another and are equally important.

Spinal cord injury recovery starts mentally. You need to think positively and make a commitment to rehabilitation.

The more you move and exercise, the more you’ll physically recover; and the more you physically recover, the more empowered you’ll be to work harder.

Hopefully, this article helped provide some insight into what signs to look out for during your recovery process. Good luck!

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