Recovering Safely From an Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury

November 17, 2018

A young man in a wheelchair sits at a desk with his peers at work
Treatment for incomplete spinal cord injury sometimes includes workplace accommo

A young man in a wheelchair sits at a desk with his peers at work.

Kyleigh Roessner RN-BSN

Spinal cord injuries are serious, but the myth that you can never recover from a spinal cord injury has proven to be false with the development of new treatments and interventions.

This is especially true for less severe injuries to the spinal cord. These injuries, called incomplete injuries or spinal cord contusions, means that there is still some communication between the brain and the affected part of the body. Though incomplete spinal cord injury recovery time can be lengthy, the prognosis is typically better than a complete spinal cord injury — sometimes referred to as transection of the spinal cord — which means the communication has been completely severed between the brain and the rest of the body.

Your Treatment Team

If you or a loved one has experienced an incomplete spinal cord injury, one of the most important things that you can do is assemble a team of competent, caring professionals to see you through your rehabilitation.

A multidisciplinary approach is best to address all factors in your recovery. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, your team may include professionals such as neurosurgeons, physiatrists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, social workers and orthotics professionals. This group of people should all be focused on getting you back to your highest level of function.

Spinal Cord Injury Treatment

The treatment for your spinal cord injury will be highly personalized to your specific injury, goals and lifestyle.

Typically, there will be exercises to strengthen your muscles, relieve pain and prevent the loss of function from atrophy, according to the Mayo Clinic. Spinal cord injury treatment also includes supportive medications that help reduce pain and unwanted muscle movements and that help you gain better control of your bowel and bladder function.

Adaptive equipment also plays an important role in recovery. Adaptive equipment includes more than just wheelchairs. You might use computer adaptive equipment to help you navigate the computer more smoothly, or smart house equipment to answer the door remotely or to change the setting on the thermostat from your smartphone. Depending on your injury, your team may also decide that electric stimulators would be appropriate. These stimulators use electrical impulses to make your hands grip and your legs move.

Adapting Your Work Space

Some people with an incomplete spinal cord injury worry about continuing to work. For some, vocational rehabilitation programs can teach new skills to help them continue to work in a role that they are capable of performing. For others, work spaces just need alterations to be more functional for that person.

These adaptations could include telecommuting, a desk with adjustable height to allow for frequent position changes and opportunities to stretch and exercise important muscles. An adjustable desk can also be used to raise and lower to accommodate the use of a wheelchair. Computer adaptive equipment to overcome small motor deficits can also be helpful, as can using small exercise and stretching equipment to help reduce stiffness and pain during the workday.

You may want to visit the Job Accommodations Network for more information on changes that can be made to your workplace with your employer to help you fulfill your job duties.

Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Time

For most people, it's not really possible to say how long exactly the recovery time will be for their spinal cord injury. According to the Mayo Clinic, the greatest improvements in function are usually in the first six months after the initial injury, but small victories can still be won for one to two years afterward.

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