Spinal Cord Injury: Rehabilitation Phase

“I seemed to have paralysis all over my body…
My taste buds were affected; my eyes refused to focus correctly;
my mind wandered; and lung muscles were also stricken.
At the end of six weeks, I lifed my head off the pillow and was able
to sneeze slightly. Three weeks [later] I managed to turn myself on
my side. By this time I was able to carry on a conversation without
running out of breath. In December, my feet returned for the most
part to a normal condition.”
~Mrs. V. A. Pahl, Smithsonian NMAH

Many events happen during the initial phase of a Spinal Cord Injury (SCI). You might have seen a loved one rushed to the emergency room after an accident and placed in a brace, immobilizing their body. Or you, yourself, may have been taken into surgery and upon waking up, you may have felt numb or you couldn’t move a part of your body. So many questions come whizzing into your head during the initial phase. Questions like, What will life be like now? What challenges will my family member or friend face? Will I ever be able to walk again?

The news that you have an SCI can be overwhelming. And each SCI has a different road to recovery with different adjustments made to your daily routine. But don’t be discouraged when the time comes to make decisions to put the pieces of your life back together. The next step you’ll be taking is choosing a rehabilitation process with therapies that fit your needs. Use the following discussion as a guide to picking the best rehab for you.

Rehabilitation Location

There are both inpatient and outpatient rehab center options for SCI treatment. When choosing a facility, it will be important to make sure they can provide the level of services you require. You will also want to make sure they have the equipment, professional staff, and experience with your particular SCI diagnosis. Other questions to ask when choosing the facility include:

1. Does the facility provide treatments for adults, pediatric cases, or both?

2. How many SCI patients with your condition do they see every year?

3. What is the staff to patient ratio?

4. Does the facility offer support for family members and friends?

5. Is the facility accredited and meet the professional standards to provide the proper care?

Another question to ask yourself is, How far am I willing to travel to receive treatment? Home healthcare agencies, like Dobson Healthcare, can provide high-quality care and rehabilitation therapies in the comfort of your home.

Professional Staff

There should be many professional staff members on the rehabilitation team at an inpatient or outpatient facility. Among them should be a Physiatrist (the doctor specializing in treating a wide range of medical conditions affecting the brain and spinal cord) who coordinates the long-term rehab care for SCI patients. Rehabilitation Nurses should also be on the rehab team. Among their many supportive tasks, they provide education for the patient and family members as well as monitor the rehab treatment and recovery process. Finally, there should be a variety of therapists, such as occupational therapists and physical therapists, on the team. Each staff member should have the proper educational background and professional experience to assist in the rehab process. 


It is important for the facility to provide care with a variety of therapy options while also utilizing cutting-edge technology. Common therapies include Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, and Speech Therapy. These therapies assist with learning or relearning day-to-day activities, motor and sensory movements, how to operate a wheelchair, how to communicate, how to swallow, and so much more. A special type of therapy increasingly being used is called Aquatherapy. This involves an Aquatic Therapist assisting exercises within a heated therapy pool. Lastly, the facility might suggest the use of Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES). By using a FES system, such as the FES bike or surgical implants, small electrical pulses are sent to paralyzed muscles to assist with exercising, moving, and improving muscle and organ functions.

Know that throughout this healing process you are not alone. There are many great sources, like the United Spinal Association, the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, and the Paralyzed Veterans of America, that can provide answers to your questions. If you need help caring for a loved one with an SCI or want to talk to a nurse about care options, please call us at 866-866-8984.

Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. (n.d.). Functional Electrical Stimulation. Retrieved January 14, 2016

Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. (n.d.). Overview-How to Pick a Rehab. Retrieved January 14, 2016

Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. (n.d.). Rehabilitation Centers. Retrieved January 14, 2016

Figure 1: University of Maryland Medical Center. (n.d.). Rehabilitation. Retrieved January 14, 2016