What to Expect after a Spinal Cord Injury

Prolapse of intervertebral disc closeup 3d image

More than 265,000 Americans are living with a spinal cord injury, and there are up to 12,500 new cases each year. This life-changing injury can leave you feeling overwhelmed by all of the information from your doctors, caregivers and loved ones.

Life will be very different from here on out, but no one – not even your doctors – can say with absolutely certainty what your future will hold.

The Location of the Injury

Spinal cord injuries are often unpredictable, but knowing the location of your injury can help you get a better idea what life changes you will face and what your recovery will entail.

Cervical spinal cord injuries, which affect the top of the spinal cord, are the most severe. As the injury moves down the spine, the effects become less life-threatening and less likely to result in permanent paralysis.

Another important thing to consider is whether the injury is complete or incomplete. A complete injury will result in a fully compressed or severed spinal cord, which reduces the odds of a full recovery. An incomplete injury offers better prospects.

“A complete spinal cord injury results in paralysis below the point of trauma, leaving a person without feeling or movement,” says Lalande Personal Injury Lawyers. “A ‘complete’ spinal cord injury means there is complete loss of movement and feeling below the level of the injury. In other words, messages from the brain cannot be received past the area that you hurt.”

No matter the location or whether it’s a complete or incomplete injury, your attitude and lifestyle choices will play a significant role in your recovery.

Physical and Mental Changes

Spinal cord injuries undoubtedly will affect your physical capabilities. Paralysis is one potential symptom, but you may also experience other symptoms, depending on the location and nature of your injury, including:

  • Pain at the injury site
  • Difficulty controlling the bladder or bowels
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Difficulty with sexual function, fertility and arousal
  • Tingling sensations
  • Changed sensations throughout the body
  • Difficulty breathing without assistance
  • Skin problems

A spinal cord injury can also increase your risk of other health conditions, including skin infections and obesity. The primary cause of death following a spinal cord injury is respiratory infection that progresses into pneumonia.

Physical changes aren’t the only thing that you will experience. Mental health challenges are common among spinal cord injury sufferers. The mind and body are inexplicitly linked, and your mental health will impact your physical health. The challenges of living with this type of traumatic injury can lead to depression and anxiety. Some medications may also impact the way your brain processes neurotransmitters, which can make you more vulnerable to mental health issues.

It’s important to have psychological support following a spinal cord injury, so it’s important to seek therapy or even enroll in a support group.

Physical therapy really does work, and many patients with a spinal cord injury can better overcome their physical and mental struggles by taking action. Physical therapy has the power to rewire the brain and the spine. There are no guarantees, but everyone makes at least a little progress through physical therapy.

About the author

David van der Ende is a full-time blogger and part-time graphic design enthusiast. He loves to write about a broad range of topics, but his professional background in both legal and finance drives him to write on these two subjects most frequently.