Dr. Brian Higdon listening to a patient's heart

Continued Care After a Spinal Cord Injury

A spinal cord injury (SCI) refers to damage to any part of the spinal cord or nerves at the end of the spinal canal. The severity of an SCI will determine the extent of the loss of other body functions. Continued care after a spinal cord injury is critical to a complete recovery.

If you’ve experienced a spinal cord injury, consider rehabilitation facilities where the therapists specialize in treating SCIs and have ample experience. At Brooks Rehabilitation, we offer extensive physical and occupational therapy to help you experience a full recovery.

What are the stages of spinal cord injury recovery?

While recovery varies from one person to another, there are generally two stages of recovery from a spinal cord injury.

The first stage

Recovery from an SCI typically starts in the hospital immediately after the injury. This stage entails spending time in a critical care unit. A doctor may recommend the patient undergo surgery.

First doctors examine the patient’s vital signs and ensure their airways are clear. They will check the patient’s heartbeat and test the movement and sensation in their arms and legs. The main focus is to limit damage and reduce the risk of complications.

Doctors may use medical imaging, such as CT scans or MRIs, to conduct further tests. The patient’s stay in the hospital guides the doctors in organizing a long-term care plan based on their observations. Patients with minimal injuries and stable functions may leave the hospital sooner.

The second stage

After the first stage, patients can leave the hospital and focus on rehabilitation. A physician will work with them, using rehabilitation exercises to create a personalized plan for physical or occupational therapy. The recovery process can be mentally overwhelming, which is why doctors also offer counseling services.

Doctors often recommend patients stay in a sub-acute rehabilitation facility and receive rehabilitation every day. During the first year, they’ll require regular doctor visits. Our SCI doctors will offer rehabilitation and care for several years to come.

During this stage, the patient and their caregivers must keenly watch out for unwanted complications. Doctors conduct regular check ups while monitoring the patient’s progress. This stage is crucial as some body functions may begin recovering.

Long-term management of chronic spinal cord injuries

  • Intensive rehabilitation: Rehabilitation is essential for complete recovery and for maintaining mobility. Our doctors will engage the patient in trunk balance, postural control, verticalization, and gait training to help them regain their posture.
  • Prevention of complications: As the patient recovers from a spinal cord injury, they might face long-term complications such as cardiovascular and sexual dysfunction. Doctors will treat and try to prevent such complications.
  • Bladder and bowel management: An SCI interrupts communication between the brain and the spinal cord nerves that control bladder and bowel function. Doctors offer treatment options to enhance bowel movement.
  • Pain management: SCI patients may experience pain for several years. Doctors offer physical treatments such as physical therapy and pain management counseling. Patients may also receive non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and anesthetics to ease their pain.

Immediately after an injury

After the second stage, doctors perform other procedures to enhance the patient’s recovery. Some of the procedures include.

  • Spine stabilization: Doctors will try to correct spinal instability and deformity to enhance mobility. They use spinal fusion devices to enhance bone fixation.
  • Medical imaging: They also use imaging tools to expedite recovery. These include: X-rays to observe the fractures or possible tumors in the spine; imaging tools, such as CT scans, to provide clear images of bone and disk problems in the patient; and MRIs to observe blood clots within the spinal cord.
  • Emergency surgery The patient may undergo emergency surgery, especially if the injury causes pain in other body parts.

The following days and weeks

The patient’s overall progress will determine the action doctors take after diagnosis or possible surgery. Doctors will consider:

  • Damage and swelling reduction: Doctors may give an SCI patient steroid drugs to reduce inflammation and prevent further damage to other membranes.
  • Release from the hospital: They may release the patient from the hospital if they’re in stable condition.
  • Admission to a sub-acute rehabilitation facility: A doctor can recommend a patient to a sub-acute facility if they’re critically ill and cannot withstand the long therapy sessions in acute care. They’ll get occupational, respiratory, and speech therapists at the facility for high-level care.

The first year of recovery

SCI patients are at high risk of secondary complications and may have to undergo the following.

  • Physical or occupational therapy: Patients may undergo physical therapy (PT) to improve their mobility and prevent further complications. After a year, occupational therapy (OT) can help to increase patients’ independence by recovering their physical motor functions.
  • Counseling: Between 11% and 37% of SCI patients suffer from depression. Counselors work with SCI patients to help improve their emotional health and expedite their recovery.
  • Regular checkups: After SCI, regular checkups are necessary for monitoring complications.
  • Further surgery: Patients can undergo subsequent surgeries after a year due to possible trauma on other body parts.


People who undergo physical and occupational therapy after a spinal cord injury live longer and healthier lives. However, years after the injury, some may experience complications. So, doctors may determine a proper long-term care plan for them, which involves the following.

  • Continuing rehabilitation: SCI patients should expect a long and complex rehabilitation process. Rehabilitation helps to prevent the loss of muscle strength and ensures the normal functioning of critical body systems.
  • Treatment for any complications: In the long term, individuals may suffer from local or systemic diseases. Some of the delayed complications include neuropathic joint arthropathy and spasticity. Cardiovascular and respiratory complications are also common diseases that affect individuals in the long term. Doctors need to examine and treat such diseases as they arise.

Continuing care for SCI at Brooks Rehabilitation

Brooks Rehabilitation is a national leader in high-quality care. Our SCI program is one of only a few state-designated treatment facilities. We provide cutting-edge, scientifically supported treatment for our patients.

Our all-inclusive care system provides everything you need to address each spinal cord injury recovery stage. Contact us to learn more about SCI treatment options that will ultimately help you recover an optimal quality of life.

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