Spinal cord damage is considered long term and as such will need a variety of treatment options to assist patients through their different stages of recovery. Not everyone will suffer the same kind of spinal cord damage, which means that the rehabilitation treatment options will vary from one individual to the other.
To resume maximum functionality after a spinal cord injury is the ultimate goal for all patients. Though treatment practices vary, each in its own way advocates increasing activity levels and independence for the patient. The costs of rehabilitation services and equipment for spinal cord injury patients is high. Due to the long term nature of the treatment, medical expenses can be high where families may require further assistance from non-profit organisations, government support or even private fundraising online to help overcome any financial burden.
One of the first types of therapy that spinal cord injury patients receive is occupational therapy. The treatment is aimed at increasing functional independence where areas of self-care, productivity and leisure are focused on. Activities of daily living, at work and for recreation are taught.
Among these the tasks of home maintenance and accessing the community more easily are promoted. Some patients may also need assistive devices such as electric beds, wheelchairs, hand splints, pressure mattresses and pressure relieving cushions, bathroom equipment or others to help them perform better.
A team of specialists including occupational therapists, physical therapists, social workers, psychologists and others work collaboratively to coordinate the rehabilitation process.
For many patients, physical therapy is also an important component of the treatment process. Physiotherapy targets, where possible, to restore bodily functioning and where the damage is long term, to reduce the impact of dysfunction. The therapist can use an array of treatment methods including manual therapy such as spinal mobilisation and exercise programs, to treat spinal cord injury patients.
Other rehabilitation services
Another area where spinal cord injury patients may need professional assistance is that of respiration. Since some patients may suffer from difficulty breathing, develop pressure sores or need to maintain a proper range of motion, therapists will need to coach patients to adopt accessory breathing techniques.
Patients with immobilization are at a risk of developing muscle atrophy and osteoporosis and can be assisted with Functional Electrical Stimulation. Here the bones are stressed through muscular contractions and the exercise seems to help when practiced regularly for a longer duration.
To restore walking for a spinal cord injury patient, therapists use both treadmill training and ground training to improve locomotion activity. Massage therapy is also used for patients whose range of motion has been restricted as a result of the spinal cord injury.
For patients placed in long term inpatient rehabilitation or those that are discharged, occupational therapy will continue after acute rehabilitation. Monitoring any of the assistive devices that are needed for daily functioning will be provided by the occupational therapist. These can include but not be limited to bed mobility, wheelchair mobility, transfers, toileting skills and other routine activities.
All interventions work towards the goal of maximizing the individual’s independence level and can expand to include educating the caregivers as well. Acquiring the optimal level of self-sufficiency is a boost for the patient’s self-confidence and lowers stress for the caregivers. Functional autonomy will improve the quality of life for the patient at home as well as in social participation.
1. Occupational therapy: http://www.aci.health.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/155191/occupational_therapy.pdf
2. Rehabilitation in spinal cord injury: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rehabilitation_in_spinal_cord_injury