Damage to the spinal cord can occur from either a traumatic injury, or from a disease that affects the vertebral column. A person’s injury is described by the level of injury and what nerve fibers are injured. The injury can result from bruising, swelling, infection, fractures of the spinal column, or tears in the nerve fibers. The spinal cord’s ability to send messages between the brain and the body parts below the level of injury are interrupted. Each spinal cord injury is different, and the effects may vary from person to person.
Sometimes the spinal cord is only bruised or swollen after the initial injury. As the swelling goes down, the nerves may begin to work again. There are no tests at this time to tell how many nerves, if any, will begin to work again or when this will occur. This makes it impossible for medical staff to guarantee how much or when function may return.
Some individuals have involuntary movements, such as twitching or shaking. These movements are called spasms. Spasms are not a sign of recovery. A spasm occurs when a wrong message from the nerve causes the muscle to move. The individual often can not control this movement.
In addition to movement and feeling, a spinal cord injury affects how other systems of the body work. An individual with SCI learns new ways to manage his/her bladder and bowel. His/her skin and lungs often need special care and attention to stay healthy. There may also be changes in sexual function.
Functional goals are a realistic expectation of activities that a person with spinal cord injury eventually should be able to do with a particular level of injury. These goals are set during rehabilitation with the medical team. They help the individual with SCI learn new ways to manage his/her daily activities and stay healthy.
Achievement of functional goals can also be affected by other factors, such as an individual's body type and health related issues. By striving to reach these functional goals, the hope is to give individuals with SCI the opportunity to achieve maximum independence.
Under your doctor's direction, rehabilitation specialists at Highlands come together to provide a treatment program specifically suited to your needs. Physicians who specialize in rehabilitation are called physiatrists. The number of services you receive will depend on your needs. Services may include: