Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation

Treatment for spinal cord injuries can be divided into to two stages: acute and rehabilitation. The acute phase begins at the time of injury, and lasts until the person is stabilized. The rehabilitation phase begins as soon as the person has stabilized and is ready to begin working toward his or her independence.

The Acute Phase

During the acute phase, it is very important that the person receive prompt medical care. The faster the person accesses treatment, the better his or her chances are at having the least amount of impairment possible. In most cases, the injured person will be sent to the closest hospital or center equipped to deal with spinal cord injuries.

The first few days of the acute stage are accompanied by spinal shock, in which the person’s reflexes don’t work. During this stage, it’s very difficult to determine an exact prognosis, as some function beyond what is currently being seen may occur later. At this stage other complications from the accident or injury will also be present, such as brain injury, broken bones, or bruising.

The Rehabilitation Phase

Once the acute phase is over and the person has been stabilized, he or she enters the rehabilitation stage of treatment. Treatment during this phase has the goal of returning as much function as possible to the person. Because all spinal cord injuries are different, a unique plan designed to help the person function and succeed in everyday life is designed. The plan often includes:

  • Helping the person understand his or her injuries
  • Helping the person understand the details regarding his or her care
  • Helping the person become as independent as possible in everyday activities such as bathing, eating, dressing, grooming, and wheelchair use
  • Helping the person learn to accept a new lifestyle, especially pertaining to sexual, recreational, and housing options
  • Helping the person learn how to instruct caregivers in how to assist them 
  • Preparing them for vocational rehabilitation

In most cases, rehabilitation occurs at an approved and accredited spinal cord injury treatment center. 

Specific Level of Spinal Cord Injury and Rehabilitation Potential

  • C2 or C3:  Patient is completely dependent for all care
  • C4:  Dependent for all care and usually needs a ventilator
  • C5:  Patient may be able to feed themself using assistive devices, usually needs a type of respiratory support but may be able to break without a ventilator
  • C6:  Patient may be able to push themself on wheelchair indoors and may be able to perform daily living tasks such as eating, grooming, and dressing.
  • C7:  Patient May be able to drive a car with special adaptations or can propel a wheelchair outside
  • C8:  Same as C7
  • T1-T6:  Patient may be able to become independent with self-care and use of a wheelchair
  • T6-T12:  Patient may improve sitting balance and be able to participate in atheltic activities with the use of a wheelchair
  • L1-L5:  Patient may be able to walk short distances with assistive devices.