September is spinal cord injury (SCI) awareness month. The spinal cord can be damaged at any point along the spine from the neck up and down to the tail bone. This damage can result in permanent loss of movement of all extremities below the injury if the spinal cord is completely severed. If part of the spinal cord remains intact, or an incomplete injury, then the degree of paralysis and weakness can vary based on the level and extent of damage.
As a part of the outpatient therapy team at CHI Health Immanuel Rehabilitation Institute, I help organize the SCI support group. Over the years I have tried to understand what the most confusing parts of life are right after a major injury. I have learned that there are so many things to try and wrap the brain around. One major question always reappears.
How Can You Get Back to Normal After a Spine Injury?
A natural worry is how to live a normal life after any level of SCI. The health care professional in me will list off many ways that therapy, self-motivation, and a good support system can keep you fulfilled and living a happy life. This sounds like the same advice you would hear after knee or shoulder surgery, too.
Therapy can help you figure out what your new normal is. Safety and independent function are always major goals. Also, learning what is important for your health and how to manage any issues that may arise.
Self-motivation can get you back to work or school or living on your own. Where there’s a will there’s a way and once you know what you want you can figure it out or reach out to someone who has maybe tried it before.
Again, as with anybody there are going to be good days and bad days. Many people will tell me that you find out who your true friends are after a life changing injury. Keep people close and ask for help when you need it. Your family and friends are such great resources for emotional support and physical help.
In the end the best way to prepare for the future is to live your present. You can have a down day but expect to get back up the next. Master your difficulties and figure out what you want. Learn more about the rehabilitation services at CHI Health.
Experiences From the View of a Patient
Life After a Spinal Cord Injury
To follow up on living with a Spinal Cord Injury (SCI), I asked my friend Thanh for his perspective. In his own words he describes his injury and how this effects his body and mobility,
"My level of injury is an incomplete C5-C6 from a single car accident. The Injury causes me to have spasms from my neck down. Also causes tone and tightness in my legs. I have probably 80% sensation throughout my body. At times, it is hard to differentiate hot and cold.
When it comes to mobility there is a difference between upper and lower extremities. My Right shoulder range and motion is good and the biceps are strong. The left arm is tight, has less range of motion, and the biceps are weaker. My stronger arm (right) has weak triceps and the left arm with the weak biceps has strong triceps. When it comes to the lower extremities I think I have full mobility it’s just weak muscles especially in the right leg."
Therapy After Spinal Cord Injury
Thanh was only 15 when he got hurt and has made many friendships with many different therapists over the years. I asked Thanh how therapy has helped him and he said,
"I have been going to therapy off and on for the last 18 years and am so appreciative of the work they do. Right after the accident I was paralyzed from the neck down couldn’t move or do anything. Even as I gained mobility I did not think I would be able to ever put my shirt on myself.
Through the amazing work of Occupational therapy, I learned to do all the daily tasks you take for granted such as putting on clothes or brushing your teeth and I eventually gained enough mobility. Physical therapy strengthened my legs and eventually got me to walk again."
I asked Thanh to provide some insight to his life now, his support system and some of his favorite things to do.
"Well my family have been the best source of support. They are the only reason I carry on. When my accident happened there was somebody at the hospital every day for the entire three months I was there. Another piece of my support system is my best friend. He was one of my outlets getting out of the house. This is our 20th year of friendship.
When it comes to hobbies I like watching sporting events. I love fishing and being outdoors in general. One of my favorite things to do is go to concerts. I also have a job that get me close to sports and concerts so it works out well.
There are always going to be bad days or weeks, music is what gets me through stress and depression. It’s my drug in my therapy. I probably listen to unhealthy amounts of music going all the way back to high school with my earbuds in music on full blast listening for hours until my ears hurt. Wouldn’t surprise me get a brain tumor from all the radiation."
Learn more about Rehabilitation Services at CHI Health.