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.
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
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 last anywhere from days to weeks, but typically lasts around 4-6 weeks before functions 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 be working on things like balance, muscle tone, gait training, and flexibility. Rehabilitation training will help stimulate your nervous system and promote motor control.
An improvement in any single one of these factors is a huge sign of physical recovery from spinal cord injury:
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!
During spinal shock, your muscles go flaccid and have no tone.
As your body starts to recover and spinal shock goes away, your muscles overreact and go spastic.
Don’t freak out if you experience spasticity. Spasticity is a good 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 exercising spastic muscles and eventually, spasticity will decrease.
Mild tingling means that 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:
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 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 motor complete to motor incomplete SCI
- AIS B to AIS C on the ASIA impairment scale
- being wheelchair dependent to walker dependent
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
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.
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 condition you’re in after spinal cord injury and moving forward.
It’s okay to grieve. Let it all out! But at some point, you need to shift your mindset.
When you’re ready to adjust and start looking for new ways to enjoy the things you love, you’ll understand that you can still live a very fulfilling life after SCI.
2. Goal Setting
It’s a good sign if you catch yourself constantly making big and little recovery goals.
This means that you’re motivated, hopeful, and visualizing 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.
If you’re positive and catch yourself thinking “at least I’m doing better than before,” that’s a good sign of mental recovery.
Consider keeping a recovery journal or video recording your progress so that when you get down, 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
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, 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!