Spinal Injury Treatment

Although spinal cord damage cannot be reversed, researchers are working on new ways,  including innovative treatments, prostheses, and medications that may promote nerve cell regeneration or improve the function of the nerves that remain after a spinal cord injury (SCI).

Initially, treatment consists of immobilizing the spine where the SCI  has occurred. For injuries to the neck, this may include placing the head in a halo device that keeps it from moving. For injuries to the back, casts, braces and straps may be used to keep the back from moving. Steroids are given—usually within 24 hours after the injury—to reduce swelling.

Depending on the injury, surgery may be necessary. Such is the case if there is bone pressing on or into the spinal cord, or if there is a need to stabilize or realign the spine if the vertebrae or ligaments have been damaged. Where the injury has occurred along the spine—the cervical, thoracic or lumbar area—is also vital in determining the type of surgery, if any, that may be necessary. 

Rehabilitation is a key component of the treatment process following a SCI. Even in cases where the injury is permanent, patients can achieve a one or two level of functional improvement after undergoing treatment and rehabilitation. Although on the surface, such an improvement may not sound that astonishing, but it can mean the difference, for instance, between being on a respirator and being able to breathe independently.

A multi-disciplinary team approach has proven to be the most effective rehabilitation model. In addition to the case manager, who oversees the rehab process and communicates with the patients and their families, the team usually consists of the following:

  • Physical therapists who focus on mobility and lower extremity functioning.
  • Occupational therapists who work with the patients on their difficulties with their upper extremities and problems with everyday living activities.
  • Nurses who are concerned with bowel and bladder dysfunction as well as managing pressure ulcers
  • Psychologists who deal with the emotional and behavioral ramifications.
  • Communication and swallowing problems are dealt with by speech-language pathologists. 

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