8 ways spinal cord injury rehabilitation can help you regain your independence

Therapist walking down hall with child in walker

Rehab after a spinal cord injury helps individuals learn to adapt to their injury. The spinal cord sends signals to all parts of the body. Spinal cord injuries can affect a person’s sensation and movement at or below the site of injury. Functions of the body, including temperature regulation, bowel and bladder and sexual function, may also be impacted. A SCI often impacts a person’s mental health as well as social and emotional health.

Your abilities, recovery outcomes and required assistive devices will vary uniquely from other SCI patients. Every SCI is different, and each person’s needs will be evaluated to assess assistive devices or other accommodations to help them be as independent as possible. Each person will have an individualized plan tailored to their life, their needs and their goals.

This article will cover eight aspects of spinal cord injury rehab and how they can help you gain a new sense of independence.

How can spinal cord injury rehab help me build independence?

A comprehensive SCI rehab program will support your physical, emotional and psychological well-being. Regaining your independence and achieving your best quality of life will be important. However, these things may look different for you than they did before. It will take some reflection and some adjustment to figure out what your “new normal” will look like. Your personality and core essence will remain unchanged, and your care team will be there to support you every step of the way.

Learning new ways to do everyday activities are significant parts of SCI rehab. But the emotional, psychological and spiritual aspects of recovery will take every bit as much time and effort. After a spinal cord injury, communicating with your support network and building those relationships will become more critical to maintaining your independence. Finding a renewed sense of purpose and meaning, managing your diet and exercise regimens, and staying connected with your sources of inspiration and motivation are all things you have the power to control.

8 ways spinal cord injury rehab can help you regain your independence

The attitude you bring to spinal cord injury rehabilitation is just one aspect of your overall psychological well-being. You’ve had to find ways to navigate change before, but few things will affect so many parts of your life all at once. You’ll adjust to life after an SCI in your own way and your own time. Remember, no one truly navigates life alone; we all rely on others for help and support.

The therapists you work with and the people in your peer support groups will be some of your best allies during this process. Listening to their stories and sharing what you’re going through will help you get the most out of SCI rehab.

The main types of therapy you’ll receive during SCI rehabilitation are occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, neuropsychological therapy and recreational therapy. These eight aspects of spinal cord injury rehab will help you adjust to life after an SCI, gain a new sense of what you can control and build strong, supportive relationships:

  • Building strong communication skills — Leaning on friends and loved ones for different kinds of help is hard for many people with spinal cord injuries. You are not a burden for needing more assistance than before. Your therapists and your peers can help you learn proactive ways to arrange the support you need and ways you can reciprocate.
  • Learning to use assistive devices — You’ll use different types of assistive devices to help with rehabilitation and everyday tasks. These could include a wheelchair, assistive technology to access your phone or computer, or tools to help with functional tasks (bed mobility and feeding). Your therapist will teach you how to use devices to build strength and coordination, communicate, get around, and more.
  • Recovering senses and functions — SCI affects the connections between your brain and body. During rehab, functional electrical stimulation (FES) is used to stimulate muscle movement. This could assist with strengthening weak muscles or facilitating neural connections. FES can target hand and wrist function as well as leg function and could be used to help during walking. If your goal is to recover your ability to talk or swallow, you’ll work with a speech language pathologist.
  • Building strength — A therapist will help you rebuild strength as you rehabilitate parts of your body. They can teach you exercises for everything from your fingers and hands to your head and neck, limbs, and core.
  • Home adjustments — Your therapist can help you determine how you’ll need to update your home to accommodate your needs. Depending on your abilities and lifestyle, you may need to add a ramp, clear space for mobility devices, or adapt things like kitchen tools and your shower.
  • Work, school and community life — Social workers can help with communication between your care team and other organizations as you make plans to return to work, school or your community. They can provide resources and education to help you through these transitions.
  • Engagement and motivation — Individual and group counseling will help you stay engaged and active with rehabilitation. As you adapt, your focus will shift from rehab to other areas of your life.
  • Quality of life — Diet and exercise are two things you can directly control, and they have a huge impact on your quality of life. In rehab, you’ll work with specialists to learn about exercises and dietary changes that will help you feel better. For instance, you’ll find out what foods will help with things like bowel function and preventing weight gain.

Ability KC can help you achieve your goals for spinal cord injury rehab

Rehabilitating after a spinal cord injury is a long, gradual process that takes a lot of determination. Building up your strength, relearning skills and getting familiar with adaptive tools are important parts of spinal cord injury rehab and recovery. Recognizing the things you can control, making wise decisions and taking an active role in directing your personal care are just as critical.

Your care team, peers and loved ones will be there to provide different kinds of support. You may work with physical and occupational therapists, doctors, nurses, social workers, speech therapists, a neuropsychologist, and others.

Are you seeking a facility for SCI rehabilitation? We are here to help. Ability KC is a designated Comprehensive Outpatient Rehabilitation Facility (CORF) and accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.