Did you know that the spinal cord is one of the only parts of the body that can’t repair itself? This is a terrible issue for the estimated 250-350,000 Americans who are living with spine injuries. Fortunately, there is hope! People with this injury can benefit from spine rehabilitation.

Doctor Holding X-Ray: Spine Injury

What is Spine Rehabilitation?Model of the Spinal Cord - Rehabilitation Through Physical Therapy

Spinal rehabilitation is a therapy option for individuals who have experienced pain and trauma to the spine as the result of injury or disease.

The objective of spinal rehabilitation is to improve the patient’s range of motion of the joints, increase the endurance of the spine, and maximize function.

What is a Spinal Cord Injury?

A spinal cord injury is generally damage to any part of the spinal cord or nerves at the end of the spinal canal (cauda equina).

Spinal cord injuries affect people of all ages, race, gender, sexual orientation, and income or education level. In fact, one report states that approximately 11,000 SCIs (spinal cord injuries) occur in the U.S. every year.

Unfortunately, this type of injury often causes permanent changes in body functions, strength, and sensation below the site of the injury.

What are the Types of Spinal Cord Injuries?

  1. Complete – when a person loses all ability to feel and voluntarily move below the level of the injury.
  2. Incomplete – when the patient has some feeling and sensation below the point of injury. This type of spinal cord injury is more common than a complete spinal cord injury.

What Causes a Spinal Cord Injury?

The causes of spinal cord injuries are either traumatic or non-traumatic.

Traumatic spinal cord injuries are caused by:

  • Vehicular accidents

Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries and account for almost 50% of spinal cord injuries each year.

  • Falls

Falls and slips are often the cause of spinal injuries for people above 65 years of age.

  • Acts of violence

Approximately 12% of spinal cord injuries are the result of violent encounters that involve gunshot and knife wounds

  • Sports-related injuries

Sports activities such as contact sports cause approximately 10% of these injuries

  • Medical/surgical


Non-Traumatic Spinal Cord Injuries are Caused by:

  • Degeneration of the spinal column
  • Congenital health conditions
  • Infections
  • Inflammation
  • Cancers/tumors


What are the Symptoms of Spinal Cord Injury?

Symptoms depend on where the spine is injured and whether or not it is a complete or incomplete injury. Some symptoms may present immediately, while others may be delayed (e.g. swelling and bleeding in or around the spinal cord). Symptioms include:

  • Pain and numbness,
  • A burning sensation
  • Inability to walk or move the extremities
  • Muscle spasms
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Difficulty breathing

Injury Symptoms by Region:

Spinal Vertebrae: Cervical, Thoracic, Lumbar, Sacrum, Coccyx


There are three main areas where an individual may suffer a spinal cord injury: cervical, thoracic, and lumbar. The fourth part of the spinal cord, the sacral region, does not contain spinal cord tissue. So, even if the sacral vertebrae or nerves are damaged, your spinal cord will not be damaged at that level.

  1. Cervical injury symptoms

  • Numbness, tingling, or loss of feeling below the point of injury
  • Impaired ability or inability to speak
  • Inability to breathe on one’s own
  • Paralysis in the legs, arms, and torso
  • Inability to groom or dress oneself
  • Inability to control bladder and bowel function

2. Thoracic injury symptoms

  • Patients will likely be paraplegic and still have the use of their arms, chest, and upper back.
  • Inability to control bladder and bowel function
  • If the damage is high up in the area may affect blood pressure

3. Lumbar injury symptoms

  • Patients will likely be paraplegic with functional independence
  • The patient may need a manual wheelchair for part-time or full-time use
  • Ability to ambulate using braces or other walking devices
  • Inability to control bladder and bowel function

How is a Spinal Cord Injury Diagnosed?

When an injured person is brought to the emergency room, a doctor may be able to rule out a spinal cord injury by careful inspection and examination. He/she will test the patient for sensory function and movement and ask questions about the accident that caused the injury.

However, if the patient complains of neck pain, is semi-conscious, or has obvious signs of weakness or neurological injury, other diagnostic tests may be needed such as:

  • X-ray
  • CT (Computerized tomography) scan
  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)

What Treatments are Available for Spinal Cord Injuries?

Unfortunately, to this day, there is no way to reverse damage to the spinal cord. But scientists and researchers are still working on new treatments such as prostheses and medications that may improve the function of the nerves or promote cell regeneration.

Currently, the focus of treatment is on preventing further injury and empowering people with this injury to return to an active and productive life.

As mentioned earlier, one important option for a patient suffering from spinal cord injury is healing through physical therapy.

What are the Benefits of Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation?

If a person suffers a spinal cord injury, he/she may need surgery or other treatments. Spine rehabilitation may be needed as part of the patient’s recovery.

Another benefit of rehabilitation is to help the patient relearn some simple tasks. A spinal cord injury can sometimes prevent the patient’s brain and body from communicating normally. Spine rehabilitation can help rectify that issue.

What Takes Place During Spinal Rehabilitation?

Just as no two individuals will experience a an injury the same way, no two or more treatments will be exactly the same.

Patient care is always based on his/her injury, situation, and body. Treatment will also be designed around the patient’s capabilities and his/her speed.

At Vigor Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation, we have a physical and occupational therapy team that works with patients through the many stages of recovery from a spinal cord injury.

At the start of the patient’s injury rehabilitation, our therapists focus on maintaining and strengthening of the patient’s existing muscle function, teaching the patient to relearn motor skills as well as helping the patient to learn adaptive techniques in accomplishing daily tasks.

Depending on the severity of the injury, our team works on improving our patients’ function in walking, balance, and mobility; speech, breathing, swallowing and breathing; cognition, behavior and safety, bathing, and other everyday tasks; bladder and bowel function.

We educate our patients on the effects of spine injury and how to prevent complications and we give advice on how patients can rebuild their lives. Our goal is to help them increase their quality of life and independence.

At Vigor Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation, we teach patients new skills, making use of equipment and technologies that can help them live independently as much as possible.

Part of our spinal cord injury rehabilitation or spine surgery rehabilitation is to encourage our patients to participate in social activities, resume their favorite hobbies, and we also encourage our patients to return to their school or workplace.

A spinal cord injury should not stop you from living a good life. With proper spine treatment and spine care from our therapists, you will be back to your normal routine in no time.

Call us today for a free consultation.