Spinal cord injury patient during physiotherapy

Spinal Cord Injury Physiotherapy Treatment

Physiotherapy following a spinal cord injury is a vital part of the recovery process. The benefits of physiotherapy include improved levels of movement and strength as well as overall wellbeing.

Finding the right healthcare practitioner and developing an effective, long term relationship is important and it can make a significant difference to recovery.

Spinal Cord Injury Recovery

Recovering from a spinal cord injury is often a long and challenging process. Much will depend on the severity and level of the spinal cord injury and whether it is classed as complete or incomplete.

There are a lot of healthcare professionals that can specifically help someone recover from a spinal cord injury.

An occupational therapist, for example, will support the individual in finding ways to live their life as fully as possible. They might assist with changes to the home or in choosing the appropriate wheelchair to improve functional independence. A massage therapist may be used to improve circulation and promote better recovery.

One of the key roles in helping someone recover from a spinal cord injury is the physiotherapist.

Here we take a closer look at their role, what benefits they bring and how to find the right therapist.

The Role of Physiotherapy in Recovery from a Spinal Cord Injury

Rehabilitation is usually carried out by a diverse team of healthcare practitioners and requires taking a tailored approach for each and every patient. A physiotherapist will probably be more involved than most, especially in the early days of recovery.

They are three main aims when it comes to the physical health of the individual.

  1. The physiotherapist will be focused on maximizing the recovery of an individual’s motor and sensory function.
  2. They will also help prevent secondary health issues and complications relating to the individuals injury.
  3. One aim is to work towards a stage when the individual can integrate back into the world and live life as fully as possible.

Benefits of Physiotherapy Following a Spinal Cord Injury

We know that being physically active is important for overall health. It’s arguably even more important if someone has sustained a serious spinal cord injury. A physiotherapist will have a number of different objectives to focus on, depending on the level of the injury and the specific needs of the individual.

The patient may have lost sensation and strength in certain parts of their body. A physiotherapist will be able to help boost those areas that have become weakened because they are not used anymore as well as strengthen other areas of the body to compensate.

Keeping the heart healthy is important but it’s not always easy for someone with a spinal cord injury. Engaging in aerobic exercises is the ideal way to maintain good circulation and cardiovascular health following an injury to the spine.

Some individuals with a spinal injury may have trouble breathing – especially when that damage has been sustained in the cervical and thoracic areas of the spine. In some cases, that can mean learning to breathe again and improving respiratory muscle strength.

Depending on the seriousness of the spinal cord injury, one important area where a physiotherapist will help is improving mobility. For the individual this can mean finding alternative ways to move, strengthening new muscles or learning to operate an assistive device like a wheelchair, walking frame or crutches.

Physical Therapy Exercises

Spinal cord injury patient performing strength training exercise
Strength training is an integral part of a spinal cord injury physiotherapy routine

There are a wide range of classifications for spinal cord injury and the role of the physiotherapist is to find the right, personal approach that works for the individual.

Different types of physical therapy exercises can achieve different goals.

  • Strengthening exercises: Weight training and strengthening regimes are designed to maintain muscle strength within the muscle groups that the patient still has control over.
  • Aerobic exercises: The heart pumps blood full of vital nutrients and oxygen around the body and the best way to achieve a good level of cardiovascular health is through aerobic exercise.
  • Gait training: Some individuals recovering from a spinal cord injury will need try and learn how to walk again. Gait training may involve work in a pool to strengthen muscles as well as learning how to walk with crutches.
  • Flexibility training: Flexibility is vital for good health, more so if mobility is reduced. It can also help the individual to deal with additional issues that may arise following a spinal cord injury, such as spasticity.

What to Look for in a Physiotherapist

Picking the right physical therapist is really important. Ideally, someone with a specialty in providing support for spinal cord injury patients is what most healthcare professionals would recommend. They need the appropriate qualifications and, hopefully, a good deal of experience.

Personality and empathy are also important, however. The road to recovery for an individual with a spinal cord injury is challenging and it’s vital to work with someone who is supportive and understands the individual’s needs.