Wondering what research is suggesting 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.
How Early Stabilization Affects Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Time
Early stabilization of spinal cord injuries is essential for minimizing damage.
Typically, spinal cord injuries are the result of vertebrae compressing the spinal cord. The longer the spinal cord is compressed, the more damage from secondary complications occurs.
Most of the damage doesn’t occur from the spinal cord injury itself, but rather from secondary processes. 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
Ultimately, reducing the effects of secondary injury will help minimize spinal cord injury recovery time.
Is Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Time Limited?
Every spinal cord injury is different depending on location and severity, so it’s hard to give an exact time frame for recovery.
Many different factors like one’s 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. The spinal cord never runs out of neuroplasticity; however, the more spared neural pathways you have at your level of injury, the greater your recovery outlook.
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
Epidural stimulation may be an effective way to speed up spinal cord injury recovery time. It involves working 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 overground 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
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.
Staying positive and working towards recovery will help get you out of bed every day with a mission and purpose. Good luck!