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5 Different Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Stages

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Thousands of people suffer spinal cord injuries yearly, and it is no summer picnic. You experience loss of function within the body as well as secondary conditions like:

  • Blood clots
  • Pressure sores
  • Chronic pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Kidney infections
  • Respiratory conditions
  • UTIs
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Osteoporosis

This type of sudden injury causes not only physical impairment but psychological distress as well. While the damage may be permanent, some people do recover.

There are no quick fixes for a spinal cord injury, so restoring your quality of life takes time. Here is what to expect during spinal cord injury recovery stages.

Stage #1: Treatment after the injury

To prevent further injury, it is vital to immobilize the person when a spinal cord injury occurs. This is the first part of recovery because it is a beginning point, and you don’t want to further injure the SCI location. Once transported to the hospital, a doctor will examine the person to determine the extent of the injury and pay attention to symptoms experienced like:

  • Loss of limb sensation
  • Numbness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Stinging sensation
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Extreme pressure or pain in the head or neck
  • Misalignment of neck or head

They will also get diagnostic tests and medical imaging to view the spinal cord.

This acute injury care is tailored to the severity of the injury so they can prioritize initial treatment, including taking care of open wounds, monitoring all vital signs and performing stabilizing or repair surgery. This is all about survival after the injury.

Stage #2: Recovery after the injury

Recovery is the next step; you may first experience this waking up in the hospital after the accident. This process has no set time limit because your goal is to minimize the damage and avoid secondary complications after you are stabilized.

You may have had to be on a ventilator or receive life-saving treatment, and you will stay in the hospital until you can be safely discharged. While there, doctors will monitor you by testing your limbs for sensation and movement, and you may need to wear a brace to stabilize your spine.

After you are stable, you could go home from here or be transferred to a rehabilitation facility. The average stay in the hospital is up to two weeks, and around a month for a rebab centre. Remember, the hospital is not there for rehabilitation or long-term treatment. It functions to stabilize your injuries and then releases you.

Some of these treatments can be costly. Your insurance coverage may only cover so much. Instead, you may rely upon legal compensation depending on the circumstances of your injury. Consult a Pickering personal injury lawyer to determine whether you can seek compensation for your medical expenses.

Stage #3: Rehabilitation after the injury

After you leave the hospital, you may need to go to a rehabilitation facility or directly home if you are lucky.

While at rehab, there will be scheduled activities tailored to you that may include:

Physical Therapy

You will be given targeted exercises that rewire the nervous system to regain as much function as possible.

Speech Therapy

Speech therapy retrains the tongue and mouth muscles so you can speak and swallow properly.

Occupational Therapy

This is training for using assistive devices like wheelchairs and prosthetics as well as communication devices and specialized eating utensils.


You may need to work with a professional about adjusting to a disability and loss of independence while still finding a meaningful life.

Vocational Therapy

This prepares a patient for social activities and workplace re-integration

Even if discharged home, you may be required to come to daily rehab, where you will continue your therapies and be monitored for any new complications and signs of improvement. There may even be subsequent surgeries to repair internal injuries or deformities.

Stage #4: Long-term treatment and management

This stage can last for years and is part of your long-term rehabilitation. You will continue to attend rehab based on the doctor’s recommendations and work towards further improvement.

Over time, you may experience worsening pain and fatigue from overused muscles from assisted devices. Your doctor may prescribe medication for pain and bladder and bowel control or sexual dysfunction issues, and you will continue to take these as needed. The road to recovery is long, so you must stay positive and surround yourself with supportive people.

Stage #5: Life after the injury

You will have to do this once you achieve the most improvements possible. It can be an extreme adjustment but one you must do to live your best life. Use this event as a pivoting point to chart a new path and seek emotional support when you need it. This could be from a:

  • Partner/spouse
  • Family member
  • Caregiver
  • Councillor

Find activities and interests that bring you joy and practice wellness routines like yoga, meditation, acupuncture and even Qigong.

Recovery from a spinal cord injury depends on several factors, and understanding the stages you will go through can help your overall physical and mental health. You may not recover fully from your injury and hold on to emotional scars, but you are a survivor, and this is just one of the many experiences in your life that make you who you are.

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