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Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Time: What’s Possible?

spinal cord injury recovery time

Wondering what research is saying about spinal cord injury recovery time?

There’s a common misconception that people only have a certain amount of time after their spinal cord injury to recover and that after that period, they’re as good as they’re ever going to get.

Today, we’re going to debunk that myth and explain why even years after your spinal cord injury, there’s still hope for recovery.

The Start of Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Time

Stabilization is the main concern immediately after a spinal cord injury and timing is essential.

Let’s say you get into a car accident and your vertebrae start compressing your spinal cord.

You’ll want to get surgery to get that vertebrae realigned as soon as possible because the longer the spinal cord stays compressed, the more damage occurs.

It’s like when you get a splinter. You want to take it out as soon as possible so that it can start healing faster.

The longer you leave the splinter in, the more it hurts, the deeper it can seep through, and the more you increase your risk of infection.

Damage Following Spinal Cord Injury

timing for spinal cord injury recovery

Did you know that most of the damage doesn’t even occur from the injury itself, but from secondary processes?

It’s over time that the damage develops. The first noticeable change following the injury is usually swelling of the spinal cord.

Secondary injury is characterized by:

  • reduced blood flow due to damaged, inflamed blood vessels.
  • inflammatory response due to damaged blood-brain barrier
  • cell deaths due to overstimulation from the excessive release of neurotransmitters

The cells of the central nervous system have a high metabolic rate and need a regular blood supply to function regularly.

Swelling can reduce or even cut off blood flow in the spinal cord, which causes spinal shock (the loss of reflexes and functions below your level of injury).

Luckily, once the swelling dies down, functions will gradually start to return.

Sometimes your spinal cord injury isn’t as bad as you think. What many assume is a complete loss of functioning sometimes proves to be spinal shock.

By the chronic phase, a cystic cavity and glial scars form at the injury site and block axon regeneration.

Ultimately, the goal of spinal cord injury recovery is to minimize the effects of secondary injury.

Is There A Window of Opportunity to Recover from Spinal Cord Injury?

window of opportunity to recover from spinal cord injury

Every spinal cord injury is different depending on location and severity, so it’s hard to give an exact time frame for recovery.

So many different factors like your diet, activity levels, and health affect recovery.

It’s suggested that the earlier you enter rehabilitation, the better the functional outcomes.

In general, the most recovery will occur during the first six months after your spinal cord injury. This is why it’s important not to waste any time and put a lot of effort into your recovery from the start.

However, that does not mean that recovery will stop after 6 months.

In fact, some spinal cord injury patients see recovery years following their injury, especially with lots of physical training.

Rehabilitation Therapy

Rehabilitation therapy helps provide both physical and emotional support after your spinal cord injury.

Learning new ways to train your body is crucial for regaining your independence.

Physical and occupational therapists will assess your functional abilities to see what you can and can’t do.

Then, they’ll outline your recovery goals and personalize a rehabilitation plan.

Your physical therapist will help you build strength, flexibility, and balance through exercise.

Your occupational therapist will help you adjust to life after spinal cord injury and teach you how to perform activities of daily living like bathing and eating.

Training will help reteach and familiarize your body with movements.

The damaged part of your spinal cord can’t heal, but repetitive movements can improve the functioning of the remaining connections.

Because there’s currently minimal clinical therapy for restoring nerve function after spinal cord injury, exercise has become the main mechanism for recovering functional ability.

How Epidural Stimulation Affects Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Time

one of the more effective potential treatments to walk again after a spinal cord injury is electric stimulation

Has it been way too long since you’ve seen any progress?

Ever heard of epidural stimulation? Essentially, it works by going around the spinal cord injury and exciting the neurons below the injury with electrical currents to stimulate movement.

Paired with intensive physical training, epidural stimulation has proven to recover trunk movement, standing, and walking ability.

This study tested epidural stimulation on 4 motor complete patients who have had spinal cord injury for at least 2.5 years and by the end of the study, 2 patients were able to walk over ground and the other 2 were able to achieve stepping on a weight-supporting treadmill.

The 2 participants that achieved over ground walking both had some degree of sensation below the injury, so it’s suggested that epidural stimulation is more effective for those with incomplete spinal cord injuries.

All 4 of the participants experienced significant functional improvements, proving that recovery is still possible years after spinal cord injury.

Anytime Can Be Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Time

spinal cord injury recovery time depends on location and severity of injury as well as how much effort you put into physiotherapy

Although the most recovery occurs within the first 6 months following a spinal cord injury, it is possible for recovery to continue well past that period of time.

There’s so much promising research and technology working towards minimizing the barriers that prevent spinal cord injury recovery.

In the meantime, it’s a good idea to rigorously pursue physical therapy to retrain your body to move again.

If you don’t try, you automatically fail. Staying positive and working towards recovery will help get you out of bed every day with a mission and purpose. Good luck!

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