Can You Fully Recover From a Spinal Cord Injury?

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Spinal cord injuries are among the most severe types of injuries a person may suffer. The spine is the backbone of the human body in every possible way. It helps us stand up straight and it acts as a protective sheath for the spinal cord - the bundle of nerves starting from the brain and controlling our motor functions, sensory function, and more. As back & spinal cord injury lawyers in Columbus, the team at Babin Law knows how devastating an accident leading to spinal cord injury can be. We also know how complex and expensive spinal cord injury recovery can be.

In this article, we will focus more on spinal cord injury patients and their chances of recovery. However,  we want to make sure that you know that if your injury was caused by someone else's negligence, a spinal cord injury lawyer is here to assist you with a free case review and clear explanations of your legal rights. To make things clearer for you, we will start by discussing the causes of spinal injury that qualify as a personal injury case and entitle you to seek financial compensation.

The Main Causes of Spinal Injury

The direct injury to the spine is caused by trauma in most cases. Here are some of the most common cases our back & spinal cord injury lawyers in Columbus have seen:

  • slip and fall accidents
  • car accidents
  • sports accidents
  • birth defects (damage to the baby's spinal cord during birth)
  • medical errors during surgeries
  • being hit or trapped under a heavy object

In many of these cases, someone else's negligence contributed to your injury. Thus, you should consult a spinal cord injury attorney and know your rights to sue for compensation.

What Are the Effects of a Spinal Cord Injury?

The injury to the spinal cord severs or blocks the neural circuits between the brain and various parts of the body. This interruption in the communication between the brain and the peripheral nerves leads to loss of function in several systems and organs of the body, such as:

  • muscle function
  • sexual function
  • bladder control
  • bowel control
  • independent walking capacity
  • breathing
  • heart rate
  • metabolism

Practically, every part of the body can be affected by a spinal cord injury, with a serious impact on the patient's daily life activities and general independence. The kind and severity of the impact - from loss of motor control and functional walking to inability to breathe on your own - is determined by the area of the spinal cord affected by trauma and the type of injury.

Types of Spinal Cord Injuries

Specialists at Cleveland Clinic classify spinal cord injuries as:

  • complete injury
  • incomplete injury

The complete lesion of the spinal cord results in total paralysis of the body below the level of the injury. In this case, the spinal cord is completely severed and the neurological outcome is not very optimistic: the spinal cord injury patient will likely need assistive devices and have limited daily life independence.

An incomplete lesion leaves some function in each part of the body. In the case of these spinal cord lesion patients, the prognosis for walking recovery is positive. With surgery, specialized pharmacological treatment, and physical therapy, they may be able to make neurological recovery and regain various types of voluntary movements, including walking.

Now, let us focus on the level of injury - where exactly the trauma affected the spinal cord. Here are the main types of spinal cord injuries that a spinal cord injury attorney handles:

Cervical Spinal Cord Injury

This is the type of injury with the most severe impact on motor skills and very little functional recovery. When the injured area is in the portion of the spinal cord passing through the neck, the most likely result is quadriplegia - paralysis of the entire body below the neck. The patient will be affected by a complete lack of movement in every part of the body, from the ability to move their arms and legs to the loss of abdominal muscle control.

Thoracic Spinal Cord Injury

Thoracic injuries occur in the upper back portion of the spine and affect the upper chest, mid-back, and abdominal muscles. However, hand and arm movements are likely not affected by this type of injury.

Lumbar Spinal Cord Injury

The lower back portion of the spinal cord contains the nerve fibers that control our lower body and our ability to walk. Thus, injuries to this portion of the spine will most likely result in paralysis and complete sexual dysfunction. Patients will need a wheelchair and assistance with daily life activities.

Sacral Spinal Cord Injury

The final portion of the spine controls the muscles in the hips, buttocks, back of thighs, and pelvic organs. Sexual dysfunction is a likely outcome of this type of injury. However, patients retain their functional walking ability.

The Main Stages of Recovery after a Spinal Cord Injury

Before we discuss the factor for walking recovery and the rehabilitation options for spinal cord lesion patients, our back & spinal cord injury lawyers in Columbus would like to show you the general timeline of recovery. This is very important from a legal standpoint, as well. As you will read below, it takes a lot of time before doctors can give a prognosis on the neurologic outcome - what in legal terms is called the maximum medical improvement.

It can take months until you get discharged from rehabilitation therapy and know exactly how much the injury will impact your life. However, you only have two years to take legal action against the person or legal entity responsible for your injuries - this is the statute of limitations in the state of Ohio for personal injury cases.

With these explanations in mind, here is the general outline of a patient's recovery path:

1. Acute Spinal-Cord Injury Phase

The acute phase of the injury occurs during the first hours after the trauma. In this phase, healthcare professionals will perform a physical examination to determine the nature and severity of the injury, and decide on the immediate treatment option for:

  • maintaining the ability to breathe
  • improving blood flow
  • preserving nerve function
  • reducing inflammation

You will likely receive emergency medical attention at the site of the accident, consisting of the immobilization of the head and neck to prevent further damage to the injured spinal cord.

2. Critical Care and Hospitalization

Once your condition is stable, the doctors will decide on the necessary surgical treatments to maximize the functional outcomes at the point of maximum medical improvement. During this time, you will be subjected to various examinations and tests, including:

  • X-ray to reveal the damage to the vertebrae, the potential presence of tumors or degenerative conditions of the spine
  • CT scans that show more detailed images of the spinal cord, including damage to blood vessels
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to see the damage to soft tissues (including the spinal cord) in great detail.

During the entire critical care phase, the patient will be hospitalized for a period of time varying between 11 days and one month.

3. The Release from Hospital

A small number of patients can be discharged home directly after the critical care phase. This is the case of patients who made great neurological improvement in the hospital and most likely suffered non-traumatic lesions to the spine.

Most of the patients will go to a rehabilitation center. At this point, the rehabilitation team will decide on the course of treatment to help them regain motor function and reduce the spinal cord injury recovery time as much as possible. At this point, the patient will undergo tests to determine their initial motor score relying on the AIS impairment chart developed by the American Spinal Injury Association.

This chart classifies upper and lower extremity motor scores as:

  • A - Complete: no sensory or motor function in the sacral segments S4-S5
  • B- Incomplete: sensory function present, but no motor function below the neurological levels, including sacral segments S4-S5
  • C - Incomplete: motor incomplete function is preserved below the neurological level and more than half of the key muscles below the neurological level have a grade improvement below 3
  • D - incomplete: motor incomplete function is preserved below the neurological level and more than half of the key muscles below the neurological level have a grade improvement above 3
  • E - Normal: the motor and sensory functions of the body are normal

4. Physical Rehabilitation and Recovery

This period of time can take months or years. Physical therapists will recommend periodic instrumental examinations to determine your progress and use various therapies, including electrical stimulation and massage, to rebuild muscle strength, rewire nerves and restore motor functions. The therapists will try to maximize your quality of life by teaching you how to adapt to the new conditions you will have to face in case of incomplete healing.

Physical therapy will also aim to prevent the onset of spinal stenosis - a condition in which the vertebrae become fused together, reducing the range of motions. This condition is degenerative and one of its underlying causes is an incompletely healed trauma to the spine.

5. Psychological Recovery

Unfortunately, many spinal cord lesion patients also suffer from long-term emotional and mental trauma. A spinal cord injury study conducted by a group of researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia found that:

  • 20% to 40% of spinal injury patients suffered from depressive disorders during the first 6 - 8 months after the injury
  • 30% of the patients suffered from depressive disorders during the rehabilitation stage.

A separate study conducted by Pennsylvania State University found that patients who suffered spinal injuries are more likely to develop substance abuse than other patients, ranging from nicotine and alcohol to cannabis and opioids.

If your injury was caused by another person's negligence, a spinal cord injury lawyer may be able to help you obtain non-economic damages from the liable party, to compensate you for your reduced quality of life, loss of consortium (caused by reduced sexual function), mental anguish and emotional trauma.

Key Factors that Contribute to Functional Recovery in Spinal Injury Patients

Regaining functional walking and making other types of neurological improvement after suffering an injury to the spinal cord are determined by several factors.

According to medical professionals, these key factors are:

1. Severity of the Injury

Spinal cord injury recovery depends on the proportion in which the cord was affected. In most cases, a complete lesion is irreversible. There is permanent loss of function and loss of motor abilities because the communication between the brain and peripheral nerves is permanently interrupted.

An incomplete lesion has higher a chance of recovery. When determining the treatment option, doctors always focus on preventing and limiting loss of function and restoring neural circuits in the spinal cord.

2. The Level of Injury

The exact position of the injured area on the spinal cord also affects the chances to restore functional walking, sexual function, and other key functions of the body. As we explained above, sacral and thoracic injuries have a reduced negative impact. On the other hand, cervical and lumbar lesions are the most severe, resulting in either paralysis or quadriplegia.

3. Stabilization of the Spinal Cord after the Injury

When any kind of physical trauma occurs, the immune system responds by creating inflammation in the area. This inflammation can further damage the spinal cord and reduce the patient's chances of neurological recovery.

This is why immediate medical attention is critical in the case of spinal cord injuries. Through surgical treatments and pharmacological treatment, doctors attempt to reduce inflammation at the direct injury site and surrounding area, improving the functional outcomes.

4. Medical History

Preexisting conditions have a negative impact both on the spinal cord injury recovery time and the level of maximum medical improvement (including lack of movement and walking capacity).

Some of the conditions that negatively influence neurological recovery are:

  • spinal stenosis
  • respiratory complication
  • chronic pain (especially lower back pain)
  • obesity
  • sleep problems

At the same time, certain medications can reduce or delay spinal cord injury recovery.

5. Physical Activity

Active and fit spinal cord injury patients are more likely to have better functional outcomes than people who were not physically fit and exercising on a regular basis prior to their injury. The level of fitness is very important, especially during the physical rehabilitation phase when therapists will recommend a series of exercises to restore independent walking and the ability to perform activities of daily living.

6. Diet

A lot of health gurus say that we are what we eat. While you don't have to believe everything they say - this is a truth, confirmed by doctors. A healthy diet, rich in vitamins, proteins, and minerals will give your body the strength to fight infection and recover from many types of severe injuries.

On the other hand, a diet rich in sugar and fats is detrimental to your overall health and will delay your spinal cord injury recovery, as well as reduce your motor function and walking capacity.

7. Mental Health

Your state of mind is just as important for your recovery as proper medical care and is a key factor for walking recovery. If you stay optimistic, you will work harder during the physical therapy stage and your body will function properly, using all the resources to help heal the injured area.

Even if you do not fully regain your walking capacity, good mental health is essential to help you adapt to the new life you will have.

How a Spinal Cord Injury Lawyer Helps You after Your Accident

Many accidents leading to spinal injuries are provoked by other people's negligence. This makes them liable to compensate you, not only for your medical expenses and lost wages, but also for your reduced quality of life, pain and suffering.

Spinal cord lesion patients deserve the maximum compensation that personal injury laws in Ohio allow. This is what we fight for at Babin Law. We have extensive experience in dealing with many types of cases resulting in catastrophic injuries to the spinal cord, from medical malpractice to trucking accidents and workers' compensation cases.

Here is what a spinal cord injury attorney will do for you:

1. Investigate Your Accident

A spinal cord injury lawyer will look at all the pieces of evidence and talk to all the witnesses that will help us understand the exact circumstances of your accident.

2. Determine the Liable Party

We will find out who is responsible for your accident. We don't stop at the obvious fault party. A doctor or a truck driver are employees, and their employers are responsible for their actions. Thus, they are also liable to pay you a fair compensation amount.

3. Calculate Your Damages

Over the years, we learned how to estimate the expenses related to the hospitalization, rehabilitation, and life care requirements of spinal cord injury patients. Our back & spinal cord injury lawyers in Columbus will talk to your doctors, collect all the bills and estimate a fair amount to compensate you for your economic and non-economic damages.

4. Negotiate Your Spinal Cord Injury Claim

We know that insurance companies don't like paying claims and use various tactics to deter personal injury victims from filing one. Or, they try to determine you to accept a very small amount of money.

A spinal cord injury lawyer at Babin Law will approach your case with the intent to win the maximum compensation you deserve. Tell us more about your case during a free case review: 833-SURVIVORS!

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