What recovery from a spinal injury might look like

Many parts of the human body help heal themselves. For example, quite a few broken bones heal--if not fully, then to the point where the injured person can function adequately again. For muscle strains, resting the injury can lead to a large amount of healing.

The spinal cord, however, is a different story. It has no ability to repair itself, and it can be especially sensitive. The most common injuries occur from traumas such as falls from great heights, and in an incomplete spinal cord injury, some function remains below where the injury is. In a complete injury, there is no function below where the injury happened. After diagnosing a spinal cord injury, doctors tend to focus their attention on traction, pressure relief and surgery. Once a patient has undergone immediate treatment and stabilization, the road to recovery begins.

Most recovery is in the first six months

Patients usually experience the most recovery in the first six months after an injury. There can still be good recovery in the next few months, but any function lacking after one year is probably going to be permanent. That does not mean all hope is lost. The fact is, spinal cord injuries are hard to predict. It can be frustrating to patients to hear that their lives two or three years from now are up in the air.

One factor affecting recovery is the location and severity of the injury. Not surprisingly, incomplete injuries tend to lead to better outcomes.

Caring for mental and emotional health is essential

Spinal cord injury recovery often means long stays in the hospital, many outpatient visits, rehab sessions and classes. Plus, there is jumping through hoops to qualify for benefits and worrying about the loss of income. A patient may also be learning how to use assistive devices to become more independent, and while helpful, they may serve as a reminder of what he or she can no longer do.

So, that is a lot of stress, and it is also normal to feel neglected, depressed and lonely. As a patient recovers from physical injuries, there should be equal focus on the other parts of his or her well-being.

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