Varying degrees of paralysis, difficulty breathing, and chronic pain are just some of the possible problems that may be experienced with a spinal cord injury (SCI). While there has been noticeable advancement over the years with treatments, the 12,000 or so people who sustain a partial or complete SCI each year in the United States still have many challenges to face during recovery after neck or back surgery. Los Angeles patients can regain as much function as possible and restore their quality of life, but the process often occurs in stages.
Unlike a herniated disc caused by age-related wear or a similar source of back or neck pain, a spinal cord injury is almost always sudden. The first stage in recovery is immobilizing the patient to prevent further injury at the location of the SCI.
At this point, doctors assess the extent of the damage with an examination to narrow down the specific symptoms being experienced and image tests to view the spinal cord and brain. The extent of acute care needed depends on the severity of the injury. Treatments at this stage may include:
Rehabilitation is a stage of recovery that evolves over time based on how a patient with a spinal cord injury is responding and what specific short-term and long-term goals have been established. The initial stage of rehab is especially important since this is when patients are likely to make the most improvements.
Participation in rehab is essential for minimizing the risk of neurologic deterioration. It goes beyond specific exercises or therapies and includes ongoing communication since only the patients can express what’s being felt or experienced as they go through rehab. Therapists use this feedback to determine what’s working best for a patient.
The goal of regaining as much function as possible is achieved with a combination of techniques. Initially, patients may benefit more from passive physical therapy methods such as the application of heat and ice or massage therapy to increase circulation and blood flow.
Electrical nerve stimulation may increase the function of peripheral nerves damaged with an SCI. Research on electrical nerve stimulation suggests the technique may enhance the rehabilitation outcome for SCI patients. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is the most common form of electrical nerve stimulation, involving the delivery of a low voltage current to the affected area. A patient’s rehabilitation plan may also include:
Rehabilitation after a spinal cord injury is an ongoing process with no definite end since everybody responds differently to treatments. Mental health counseling may also help patients and loved ones manage the stress and other emotions that often go along with an SCI. Adopting a diet that includes nutrient-rich foods to keep the rest the spine healthy and actively participating in physical therapy as much as possible are some of the additional steps patients can take while recovering.
SCIs and other spine-related conditions can be treated in a variety of ways. At The Spine Institute, we specialize in minimally invasive fusion and non-fusion procedures such as artificial disc replacement and spinal decompression. Los Angeles patients can rely on Dr. Bae and his team of expert surgeons to determine the best plan of action for recovering from a spinal cord injury. Call our office today at 310-828-7757.