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Rehab Insights is a blog written by Burke Rehabilitation professionals to offer practical information for patients, families and the community. Its goal is to educate the reader on relevant topics in rehabilitation, general health and wellness.

Common Questions on Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal Cord Injury (SCI), although not the most common injury in the United States, has a significant impact on the lives of many. We recognize September as Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month. Whether you’re dealing with an injury, supporting a family member who is going through rehab or interested in learning more, here is some must-know information about spinal cord injury and rehabilitation.

What is the Spinal Cord?

The spinal cord provides the communication between the brain and the muscles and organs of the body, much like a telephone between two people. Throughout the body, every second of the day, the spinal cord relays the messages from the brain to various parts of the body to keep it moving and functioning properly. When a spinal cord injury occurs, communication can be stopped, resulting in a loss of function in the body and a loss of independence for the patient.

What is Spinal Cord Injury?

After a spinal cord injury, a person’s sensory, motor, and reflex messages are affected. Severe spinal cord injuries can also affect a person’s automatic activity such as breathing and bowel or bladder activity. Other symptoms may include pain, sensitivity to touch or temperature, muscle spasms, and sexual dysfunction. Patients with SCI are also prone to develop secondary medical complications such as bladder infections, lung infections, and pressure sores, as well as general deconditioning.

What are common causes of Spinal Cord Injuries and who is most at risk?

Approximately 90 percent of spinal cord injuries are due to traumatic events, with motor vehicles accidents causing approximately 38 percent of SCIs, according to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistic Center (NSCISC). Other common causes are falls (30 percent), violence (14 percent), and sports injuries such as football, gymnastics, skate boarding and diving (9 percent). Most studies show that the incidence of SCI in males is at least twice as much as injury among females. Overall, people are most at risk for SCI between the ages of 15-25 from motor vehicle accidents and sports injuries; and at older ages (60 and above), likely due to falls. 

 What type of therapy does a patient with a SCI receive during their rehabilitation at Burke?

The focus of rehabilitation after a person sustains a SCI is maximizing independence and preventing secondary complications such as skin breakdown, lung infections and general deconditioning. Here at Burke, we are usually involved in the care of the patient quickly after their injury. The patient is followed medically by a team of doctors as well as the nursing staff. The therapy team includes physical, occupational and occasionally speech therapists who focus on improving the patient’s ability to move in bed, transfer to various surfaces (such as the wheelchair, an exercise mat, and the toilet), and maintain their balance in sitting and standing positions. Patients can also receive complementary therapies including therapeutic recreation, respiratory therapy, and neuropsychology. The rehabilitation team also helps the patient and the family to determine the best and safest discharge plan for the patient, factoring in the amount of support and help required and the amount of therapy the patient needs following their acute rehabilitation stay. For more information on the Spinal Cord Injury Program at Burke, click here

Is there a cure for Spinal Cord Injuries?

Currently there is no cure for SCI, however with rehabilitation, including physical and occupational therapy, as well as complementary therapies, patients are able to maximize their function and gain more independence. Recent research has shown that spinal cord repair and regeneration is possible, and as more research is done, and technology improves, the chances of these patients gaining independence improves. Recently, there has been an increase in research on implanted stimulation devices that have shown to help patients regain control over their bowel, bladder, and sexual function as well as their muscles. 

 —Amanda Censoprano, DPT, Physical Therapist, Brain Injury/Spinal Cord Injury Unit

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Burke's Rehab Insights blog is intended to provide general information about rehabilitation and other health care topics. It should not take the place of medical care. Burke staff cannot comment on individual medical cases or give medical advice.

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