Q: What Does "Recovery" Mean?
A: After a spinal cord injury, everyone seems to pine for the same thing – to achieve complete recovery, but what does "recovery" truly mean? Does it mean to fully heal and have no paralysis or lingering side effects? Or does it mean to walk again, even if it's slow and unsteady? The definition of recovery is definitely fluid in the world of spinal cord injuries.
Recovering can also refer to beyond the physical and move into the mental and emotional realms. For many, achieving recovery in other areas of life is more important than regaining mobility and sensation, especially if they have people and entities outside themselves depending on them, like children or a small business. Sometimes you have to get back to life, and that means “recovery” to these people.
There is no right answer to what recovery is after a spinal cord injury, however, there are many interesting viewpoints to share on the subject. Continue reading below for an expanded idea of what recovery can mean when healing from a spinal cord injury.
"Several Years of Therapy" Recovery
One of the mysteries of having a spinal cord injury is that doctors can never truly say what kind of recovery and mobility return you will receive as the years' progress after your injury. Many people who continue doing rigorous physical therapy however to see the most return and recovery.
Take for example one man who was told that he would no longer progress 18 months after his injury, and his therapy was discontinued by his insurance. He hired a personal trainer and did his own pool therapy for several years after his injury until 5 years later he was able to stand up in the pool. He was also able to regain the ability to walk with a walker for a few steps because of his personal trainer pool therapy. FES therapy is also hugely important in achieving leg movement return.
The moral of the story is that you never know what is possible with continued physical therapy and/or doing it at home if needed. This is also true for activity-based therapy, which many people continue to do years after their spinal cord injury. Unfortunately, this can be expensive. NextStep Orlando is one of the activity-based therapy centers in the US that offers a scholarship. You can learn more about this here: https://www.nextstepfitness.org/samantha-slusak-scholarship. React in Dallas, TX, offers a scholarship as well. Learn more: http://www.neuroreaction.org/training-programs
If you're unable to afford to go to an activity-based therapy center, you can instead hire a personal trainer from a sports and rehab center. Personal trainers from one of these centers will know more about how to help someone with a spinal cord injury.
You can also hire a personal trainer who does and does not know anything about spinal cord injuries and pay to have them go to the Train Your Trainer program at two Project Walk locations, New Jersey and Texas.
"Getting Back to Living" Recovery
Maria, who was a mother to two young children at the time of her injury as well as a teacher, was obsessed with therapy and walking again after her injury, but she soon realized that her obsession with walking again was taking away from her being a good mother. For her, returning to her previous life and getting back into the groove of things was her true recovery. This can be incredibly difficult, and it is a very impressive feat.
Many people after a spinal cord injury will have a revelation that life is not necessarily about walking again, but it's about living again and not letting their injury take away their precious years of youth (which is possible if you let your grief overwhelm you). These people also suffered from depression, hoping they were going to achieve complete recovery but had a light bulb moment where they decided they no longer want to be sad anymore. This can be a choice you make instead of waiting to be happy again.
We also encourage you to always have goals, which can help you heal after a spinal cord injury. Don't forget that therapy is considered by many a lifetime commitment. You may never walk again, but there are many benefits to continued therapy, even at home, that help with flexibility, cardio and can help you get stronger.
And for those who are able to walk again, it is not the same for them even though it’s enviable for those with no leg movement. Often, they have to use crutches and cannot run anymore. Also, just because someone is able to get back on their feet again after a spinal cord injury does not make everything peachy keen. Many people suffer from chronic pain after a spinal cord injury which can mask all joy from achievements like walking again.
At the end of the day, it is up to you to define what recovery means after your own personal spinal cord injury. And don't let yourself feel like a disappointment if you're unable to get back on your two feet again. You have survived a spinal cord injury and you are here to talk about it. That is it of itself is a huge form of recovery.
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Spinal Cord Team