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The long road to recovery - why spinal injuries need long-term care

28th April 2010
By Robert Palmer in Personal Injury
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Coping with a spinal injury is often a case of ensuring the patient has both immediate care for the initial injury, and then a more long-term plan of rehabilitation, treatment and therapy to cope with the ongoing effects. Any impact violent enough to cause damage to the spinal cord will inevitably result in spinal cord injuries. Although the ability to ‘fix' nerve damage is still in its early stages, ensuring that a patient receives the correct form of treatment can make a difference between spending a lifetime in a wheelchair and regaining mobility.

What is the spinal cord?
The spinal cord acts as a conduit between the brain and the body. Through the spinal cord nerve bundle messages are sent from the brain, triggering electrical responses in the body's muscles. This then translates into movement. An injury that affects the spinal cord effectively interrupts this flow of information, disrupting the communication between the brain and the body. Where the injury is located along the spine will determine the region of the body that ‘loses' communication with the brain. Although surgery is getting better at repairing many of the body's delicate systems, nerve damage is still an area that has a long way to go.

What are the long-term effects?
The prognosis for victims of spinal injuries differs dramatically from patient to patient. The location and nature of the injury will determine both the long-term effects and the course of therapy and treatment for the patient. Every spinal injury is different, so what may work for one patient may be completely useless for another.

The medical costs associated with long term spinal injury care are astronomical. Not only are the initial costs of surgery, rehabilitation and treatment high, but also in the longer term, patients and their families will have to think about how a spinal injury could alter the lifestyle of the victim. Long term care can include everything from basic pain medication right through to a complete home renovation to allow wheelchair access, specialist medical equipment, home care and continued surgery and rehabilitation therapy.

The body can perform some remarkable feats of recovery. Some spinal injury patients recover almost complete mobility, while others may be left dependent on outside assistance to perform even the most basic of functions. But one area that is often overlooked is the psychological impact of a spinal injury.

Depression can be a real problem, particularly if the victim of a spinal injury was previously a very active or sporty person. The complete change in lifestyle may have long-term mental health consequences that initially may not be apparent. As part of a long-term care solution, many spinal injury victims also undergo intensive psychological therapy to help them cope with their change in circumstances. But the support of family members and friends is essential. A therapist is not always going to be on hand if a victim starts to feel the psychological impact of such a life-changing injury, so it is up to those around them to know what the ‘warning signs' are and respond accordingly.

The aim is to create a balance for a spinal injury victim between careful, long-term care and allowing them to have as much independence as possible. Retaining their dignity is an important part of the healing process for spinal injury victims, and one that shouldn't be overlooked during the recovery process.

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