Q: What Are Some Activities You Should Do for the Most Chances of Recovery?
A: There is a lot you can do within the first year of your injury, and many years after that, that can have a powerful impact on your chances of recovery. With most insurance plans covering just 4 months of physical therapy or even less, however, continuing your road to recovery can be tricky. Online fundraisers, grants, and scholarships can all be used as a way to pay for many of the rehab ideas suggested below.
We also need to stress the importance of knowing the exact level of your injury. Oftentimes, a doctor will give you a basic injury level without giving you your exact ASIA score (neurological level). This can play a huge part in your chances of recovery. With that said, here are some of the best ways to improve your chances of recovery after a spinal cord injury.
Don't Take No for an Answer
Many doctors have a negative view of spinal cord injuries and they let this influence the way they give diagnoses to patients. The truth however is that every spinal cord injury is different and that no doctor can tell you exactly how your recovery chances will be. This is why it is important to never take "no" for an answer when it comes to "if" you'll be able to walk again or if you can do anything for that matter after your injury. Humans can do a lot if they set their minds to it. The power of the mind is grossly underestimated and can be harnessed during recovery after spinal cord injury in a huge way.
Scale Down Your Medications
Many people believe that SCI medications like Baclofen (a muscle relaxer) and other muscle relaxers can hide any recovery you may be experiencing. Many therapists who work at activity-based therapy chance believed that spasticity is a good thing for example and should be harnessed to help with recovery.
In addition, others believe medications for mental health have the possibility of clouding one's mind and making it hard to stay mentally clear, which is needed to recover mentally from a spinal cord injury.
Keep Stretching and Continue PT
Keeping your body moving is probably one of the most important things you can do to improve your chances of recovery. The range of motion is great, and this should be done twice a day at least, but stretching more often can improve your chances of recovery. Many people devote over an hour a day to stretching their entire body, as well as and getting on their stomachs and stretching their hip muscles.
Continuing your physical therapy and occupational therapy is also critical. We understand however that many of you cannot continue doing it with your insurance ending coverage. This is why we greatly encourage you to check out activity-based therapy gyms in your area, as many offer scholarships and grants, as well as reduced prices for those in need.
Physical therapy at traditional rehabilitation centers is great, but many now transition to an activity-based therapy center/gym to continue their recovery.
Project Walk and Neurostep are two of these therapy centers. It is important to find a center that has the latest in therapy including Locomotor/gait therapy and FES (functional electronic stimulation, which helps the muscles move when connected to the machine). Many people will also continue their physical therapy at home in homemade therapy gyms years after their injury.
Isometric Exercises of Muscle Movements
A side note to the above and continuing your physical therapy: When in physical therapy and if you recover small muscle movements below your level of injury, we highly recommend you do isometric exercises of these areas to enhance the recovery as much as possible.
Many people swear up and down on the power of aquatic therapy. For it to be effective, you will need to do it on a regular basis; ie., at least three times a week. And any kind of pool therapy is helpful, whether it is swimming, lifting weights, or stretching in the pool. Many people are able to walk in the water as well. Amazing recoveries have occurred in the pool.
Just make sure that you find one that is warm to make sure it is a pleasant experience. Also, it is possible for anyone at the C6 level and below to swim on their own. To learn how to swim as a quadriplegic, we recommend checking out videos by Ali Ingersoll, a C6 complete quad from Florida who can swim (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVkEUfsNCBY).
And lastly, we want to stress that the 2-year mark after spinal cord injury is arbitrary and not the end of the road for recovery. Do not put a timeline on recovery. There's so much that doctors do not know about the spinal cord and recovery after a spinal cord injury, and there are constantly new things being discovered.
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Spinal Cord Team