What to Expect During Spinal Cord Injury Treatment
Due to its direct impact on the central nervous system, spinal cord injuries can have incredibly debilitating effects on both the physical and mental well-being of those suffering from them. As such, the need for treatment often emerges as a necessary measure to restore a patient’s quality of life. However, when it comes to spinal cord injury treatment options, there is unfortunately no easy solution.
Nationwide, approximately 276,000 individuals are currently dealing with a spinal cord injury, making the need for more innovative treatment options an area of major concern for the medical community. Regardless of the extent of the damage, there is always hope for recovery from spinal cord injuries. Though the potential benefits cannot be underestimated, patients may become intimidated and even frustrated by the struggle ahead. So let’s discuss some of what they may experience during spinal cord injury treatment.
Types of Treatment
One of the most fundamental aspects to consider with regard to spinal cord injury treatment is the level of damage. The opportunity to restore lost functioning depends on whether the injury has resulted in complete or incomplete severing of the connection between the brain and the spinal cord. This can result in a deterioration of motor skills and other essential sensory functions, but thankfully, there are numerous ways to proceed with repairs. Here are some of the treatment options available to address the specific nature of this condition.
- Physical therapy: One of the most widely used tactics to recover motility, physical therapy centers on the systematic strengthening and long-term maintenance of remaining muscle function. Over the course of treatment, fine motor skills can be redeveloped, and if necessary, patients will be instructed how to adapt to the damage they’ve endured. As part of a larger team of caregivers, physical therapists can be an instrumental part of recovering from a spinal cord injury.
- Surgery: Although patients may wish to avoid the invasiveness of surgical methods, sometimes the scope of a spinal cord injury requires more in-depth treatment than physical therapy may be equipped to provide. The primary goals of surgery are two-fold: to relieve lingering pressure on the spinal cord and to re-stabilize the spine. In the latter case, weakened vertebrae can compromise the body’s ability to protect the bundle of nerves that make up the spinal cord itself.
- Medication: Following a spinal cord injury, one of the most immediate forms of treatment will likely be the establishment of a comprehensive regimen of medication. Managing inflammation is key to reducing long-term damage and maximizing the chances for reclamation of function. Steroid injections as well as powerful anti-inflammatory drugs called corticosteroids can provide pain relief and prepare the site of injury for complementary means of treatment.
While the above treatment methods are far from the only ones currently available, they remain the most common basic options for many patients. The future of spinal cord injury treatment largely hinges on research into the regenerative properties of stem cells and the potential they may hold for unlocking more sophisticated means to restore, repair and even reverse damage.
Other Factors to Consider
In addition to the process of physical treatment itself, patients may experience duress in other aspects of life. Research continues to explore the inextricable link between mental health and its physical counterpart. Accordingly, a spinal cord injury can yield widespread effects on patients, such as depression, anxiety and irritability. In many respects, it’s only rational that those suffering from injuries of this magnitude face an uphill emotional battle reflecting the scope of their physical one.
Because of this, having a stable support system in place can work wonders for the success rate of treatment. Based on the severity of the injury, most cases will require patients to incorporate extensive lifestyle changes as they cope with the physical and emotional ramifications of the damage. At times, they will be tempted to abandon treatment and surrender to the sheer adversity ahead of them, but it’s imperative that caregivers and loved ones keep patients steadfast in their treatment and subsequent recovery.
When Children Are Spinal Cord Patients
Of the 12,000 new spinal cord injuries reported annually in the United States, roughly 10 percent involves patients under the age of 16. As heart-wrenching as that statistic may be, the fact remains that children suffering from these devastating injuries require even more vigilance and patience than adult patients. In some instances, they might not entirely understand what they’re feeling and may encounter increased difficulty in overcoming the physical and emotional trauma that the course of treatment may present.
Caregivers and support teams alike should tread carefully when handling young patients dealing with spinal cord injury treatment. Symptoms -- and their severity, for that matter -- may even initially be difficult to ascertain, and it’s essential that family members play integral roles in guiding children through the treatment process, since it will involve substantially greater challenges. Nevertheless, hope persists for the younger generation to have access to even more effective treatment options.
The Road Ahead
Spinal cord injury treatment may be one of the biggest challenges a patient will ever face, but rest assured that the potential rewards more than outweigh the physical and emotional strain involved. Damage to the central nervous system can wreak havoc on a patient’s functioning, leading to feelings of hopelessness and increased dependence on others. Yet, with the right treatment plan in place and a support system to guide patients through the difficult journey ahead, there is a very real opportunity for improvement. Time is a factor to maximize chances of restoration, however. So, if you or someone you know has suffered a spinal cord injury, act now to pursue treatment and reclaim your life.
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