Spinal cord injury recovery heavily relies on retraining your muscles through repetition.
While there’s currently no cure for spinal cord injury, it’s definitely possible to recover sensation and motor control.
Let’s find out what you should be doing to promote a healthy recovery!
How to Recover from Spinal Cord Injury
Before we dig in, you might be wondering how long recovery from spinal cord injury takes.
1. Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Time
Studies suggest that the smaller the initial nerve loss, the better the long-term spinal cord injury recovery.
The most recovery occurs in the first 6 months following a spinal cord injury.
That’s why, once your spinal cord injury is stabilized, you must start working on rehabilitation as soon as possible.
This will help you develop the skills necessary to regain your independence.
Which brings us to our next point:
2. Physical Therapy for Spinal Cord Injury Recovery
Physical therapy is designed to help patients recover or enhance their physical abilities through specialized exercises and equipment.
With spinal cord injury, you basically have to reteach your body how to move due to the inability of your brain and body to communicate.
Physical therapists are trained on what kinds of exercises will be most beneficial for your individual condition and can provide professional tips to help speed up your recovery.
The more work you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. Physical therapy will help you build muscle strength, endurance, and flexibility. It will also help you manage pain and increase mobility.
Passive Range of Motion
Even if you have no motor control at all, physical therapy can be effective through passive range of motion exercises.
This is when someone else moves your limbs for you to ensure that your joints are using their full range of motion.
Passive range of motion exercises make sure that your muscles, joints, and ligaments don’t get stiff, preventing spasticity.
If you haven’t exercised in a while, we highly recommend starting with range of motion exercises to prevent pulling any muscles. It will help stretch out any tightness and make any movements you perform after more fluid.
Gait training is a type of physical therapy that focuses on learning to walk again after spinal cord injury.
It often involves the use of support devices like:
- parallel bars
- body-weight support devices
Gait training not only emphasizes building strength in your legs but also building balance through your core.
You learn how to stand and shift your weight from one side to the other without losing stability.
One of the best ways to practice walking again is to get into a pool. The buoyant force of water will take a lot of weight and pressure off your joints.
3. Occupational Therapy for Spinal Cord Injury Recovery
Occupational therapy teaches patients how to perform everyday tasks like dressing, grooming, eating, and using the restroom.
This type of therapy can be more motivating because allows you to see the practicality of improving these skills.
Occupational therapy promotes the use of fine motor skills and focuses more on adjusting to everyday life after your injury.
For spinal cord injury recovery, this may involve learning how to use a wheelchair to get around or using adaptive utensils to eat.
4. Mental Support for Spinal Cord Injury Recovery
Spinal cord injury is two-fold. You must recover physically and mentally.
Without the mental strength to keep going, you’ll hinder your recovery.
Sometimes you might feel like your friends and family can’t understand what you’re going through. As supportive as they’re trying to be, it just might not be enough.
If you’re finding it difficult to cope, consider seeing a counselor or joining a support group.
Speaking to other spinal cord injury patients will help you feel less alone and be a helpful resource. You can share experiences and discover new ways to cope and recover.
Dealing with Depression
The good news is that depression is treatable through medication, exercise, and/or psychotherapy.
Antidepressants can help regulate the chemicals in your brain that are causing depression. Although not addictive, you may experience side effects like nausea.
Exercise is beneficial for both your brain and body. Getting your heart rate up will prompt more oxygen delivery to the brain.
This will increase endorphin, serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine levels, which helps uplift your mood. It will also regulate your stress hormones to reduce anxiety and improve overall mental clarity.
5. A Healthy Diet for Spinal Cord Injury Recovery
Food is the best medicine. Yes, what you eat matters!
The best foods for spinal cord injury recovery are packed with vitamins and other essential nutrients that keep your body in the best condition to recover.
Spinal cord injury can negatively affect your skin, weight, bone density, and digestion, so it’s important to eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods to help combat these changes.
Make sure to incorporate dark leafy greens and berries into your diet to get sufficient antioxidants for protecting cells and removing toxins.
Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits are also ideal for spinal cord injury recovery. They contain lots of vitamin C, which helps produce neurotransmitters and repair damaged tissues.
Food is fuel, not only for your body but also your mind. Avoid eating over-processed foods or anything high in refined sugars because it will cause brain fog or make you feel depressed and unmotivated for recovery.
Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Goals
Every spinal cord injury recovery is different, but all SCI patients must practice repetition to get better.
It’s unrealistic to think that you can just wake up one day and be able to miraculously walk again, especially when your neural circuits are damaged and can’t heal. Basically, you have to teach your body how to move all over again and recircuit itself.
Think about it: babies don’t just magically stand up one day and start walking perfectly. Their bodies aren’t used to bearing all that weight. They start by crawling, then standing, then taking a couple of steps, and with lots of falls in between, they gradually learn how to walk.
So many of our motor functions get overlooked because we’ve gotten used to performing them every day. We forget that there was a time when we couldn’t perform them at all.
Muscle memory is when your body gets so familiar with certain movements that it doesn’t take much effort to perform them, even after a period of inactivity.
It’s only with repetition that you can recover these motor functions. If you don’t repeat the movements enough, your muscles won’t be able to recognize them.
The more you practice, the better you get.
Hopefully, this article helped you understand how to recover from spinal cord injury. Good luck!