Recovery from spinal cord injuries depends on various factors and often requires immediate and ongoing medical treatment and care. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, more than 250,000 people in the U.S. currently living with spinal injuries, and an estimated 12,000 people suffer such trauma each year.
A severe crash, fall, or other such accidents may cause trauma to the spine that damages the spinal cord. Classified as incomplete or complete, spinal cord injuries may cause the loss of all or some feeling, as well as all or some motor function. Consequently, those who suffer such trauma may have temporary or permanent paralysis.
People’s prognosis after suffering spinal cord injuries depends on factors, including the type and severity of their injuries and the treatment they receive. Spinal cord injuries may require emergent and early-stage treatment, second-stage treatment, and long-term care. While current medical treatments cannot reverse damage to the spinal cord, they may help prevent further injury or a worsening of people’s conditions. Limiting the damage may help those who suffer spine injuries to retain or improve their motor functions and sensation.
The initial treatment of spinal cord injuries typically occurs at the accident scenes. Emergency personnel may focus their efforts on immobilizing the spine to prevent further injury, maintaining the ability of those injured to breathe, preventing those injured from going into shock, and reducing the risk of complications.
In addition to urgent medical treatment, people who suffer spine trauma often require admission to the hospital, often in the intensive care unit. While hospitalized, people with spinal cord injuries may receive medications or undergo surgery or other such procedures. Doctors may perform surgical procedures to remove fragments compressing the spine, stabilize the spine, or help decrease future pain or deformities resulting from spinal cord injuries.
Second-stage treatment for a spine injury may include rehabilitation, including physical and occupational therapy. Rehabilitation may initially focus on helping to maintain and build existing muscle function. Therapies for spinal injuries may evolve to help people redevelop their fine motor skills and to learn adaptive techniques to aid them in their daily lives.
Once in subacute care facilities or back in their homes, those who suffer spinal cord injuries may also require follow-up visits with their physicians. Their medical providers may monitor their injuries and watch for the development of secondary complications such as pressure sores, blood clots, pneumonia, and bladder or kidney stones.
While their injuries may stabilize over time, people who suffer spinal trauma may require long-term treatment and care. In addition to ongoing therapy to continue the maintenance and strengthening of their muscle functions, long-term care of spinal cord injuries may emphasize treatment and prevention of secondary complications. For example, people may require medications to improve their bladder control for the prevention of urinary tract and bladder infections. Long-term care for spinal cord injuries may also include transitioning to updated adaptive equipment and technologies. With the appropriate treatment and care immediately following and in the years after their injuries, those with spinal trauma may maintain quality and independent lives.