Spinal cord injury -- a focus on restoring function

September 15, 2011 By Stacy Stark

Imagine that you are driving home from work today when you are involved in a head on collision with an SUV. Life Lion flies you to the hospital. When you awake in the Emergency Department, you notice that you cannot feel your legs. Your doctor tells you that you may not able to walk. You also eventually realize that you cannot urinate or defecate voluntarily.

This is an all too familiar scenario for many people within the United States. are the No. 1 cause of injury (SCI). Approximately, 10,000 people in the U.S. will suffer a new SCI this year, and approximately 250,000 people in the U.S. are living with SCI.

The most common level of tetraplegia (paralysis with all four extremities involved) is cervical level 5. This means you cannot move your hands, wrists, and legs and your sensation stops slightly below the nipple line, with no feeling below that. The most common level of paraplegia ( with legs involved) is thoracic level 12. This means you cannot move your and your feeling stops at your waist, with no sensation below that.

Major improvements in the pre-hospital management of patients with an acute spinal cord injury have lead to an improved neurologic prognosis for SCI patients. The most important factor in this management process is cervical spinal stabilization at the scene of injury. A standard spinal cord injury specific examination immediately after injury provides information needed to measure recovery. These repeated examinations are used to predict individual recovery.

When SCI is complete, you have no movement or feeling below the level of injury. However, many people do regain some movement and sensation after injury.

Approximately 80 percent of patients with complete injury have a chance of remaining complete at one year. Those with an initial certain incomplete injury with certain characteristics -- and or movement below the level of injury -- have a variable recovery prognosis, sometimes with as high as a 90 percent chance of walking again following .

SCI has a long recovery. After the acute hospital stay, many patients enter acute inpatient rehabilitation during which patients still require medical care, but receive three hours of therapy every day, five days a week. This rehabilitation lasts for approximately four weeks. During this phase, the patient learns how to care for themselves, and the patient and family are educated about daily care and how to perform it, if applicable.

The rehabilitation team consists of doctors, nurses, therapists, a nutritionist, a care coordinator, a social worker and a psychologist. Ultimately, the rehabilitation team’s goal is restoring function. A multidisciplinary approach focuses on a patient's medical, physical, emotional and psychological well-being. A physician called a physiatrist will lead the rehabilitation team. Physiatrists are doctors who have done their residency in the medical field of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and are experts in caring for patients with acquired and congenital disabilities.

Suffering a SCI is serious, but treatment has advanced greatly. Activities based restorative therapy with functional electrical stimulation has shown promising results in restoring function to those with both complete and incomplete . Currently, there is no cure for SCI, but this may change one day through the research that is currently being done.

Stacy Stark is an assistant professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and the medical director of the Outpatient Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinic and director of Education for the Department of and Rehabilitation.

Explore further: Nation's second participant enrolls in human embryonic stem cell trial

Related Stories

Nation's second participant enrolls in human embryonic stem cell trial

May 12, 2011
Researchers at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) recently enrolled their first subject in a national clinical research trial ...

Recommended for you

Female mouse embryos actively remove male reproductive systems

August 17, 2017
A protein called COUP-TFII determines whether a mouse embryo develops a male reproductive tract, according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health and their colleagues at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston. The ...

Two-step process leads to cell immortalization and cancer

August 17, 2017
A mutation that helps make cells immortal is critical to the development of a tumor, but new research at the University of California, Berkeley suggests that becoming immortal is a more complicated process than originally ...

New Pathology Atlas maps genes in cancer to accelerate progress in personalized medicine

August 17, 2017
A new Pathology Atlas is launched today with an analysis of all human genes in all major cancers showing the consequence of their corresponding protein levels for overall patient survival. The difference in expression patterns ...

New technique overcomes genetic cause of infertility

August 17, 2017
Scientists have created healthy offspring from genetically infertile male mice, offering a potential new approach to tackling a common genetic cause of human infertility.

Inhibiting a protein found to reduce progression of Alzheimer's and ALS in mice

August 17, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers with Genetech Inc. and universities in Hamburg and San Francisco has found that inhibiting the creation of a protein leads to a reduction in the progression of Alzheimer's disease ...

Are stem cells the link between bacteria and cancer?

August 17, 2017
Gastric carcinoma is one of the most common causes of cancer-related deaths, primarily because most patients present at an advanced stage of the disease. The main cause of this cancer is the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.