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Spinal Cord Injuries and the Importance of Rehabilitation

By Principal Lawyer, Clinical and Medical Negligence

The purpose of spinal cord injury (SCI) rehabilitation is to optimise recovery and promote independence, self-reliance and self-esteem.

Rehabilitation

Rehabilitation can help patients adjust to the more permanent and life-changing effects of their injury by teaching them new skills to enhance their quality of life.

Often, one of the first questions people who have sustained a SCI is, ‘Will I ever walk again?’ Unfortunately it is seldom possible to predict any kind of definitive outcome with total accuracy as no two people are the same.

Some say that around a third of spinal cord-injured patients will be able to walk again. For those whose injury means this may not be possible, most will experience some improvement, although the extent of which will depend entirely on the severity of their injury and ensuring that the right rehabilitation package is put in place at the earliest opportunity.

Spinal cord injuries are divided between complete or incomplete injuries.

  • Complete spinal cord injuries involve a permanent loss of ability to send sensory and motor nerve impulses to the brain, as well as a usually permanent loss of feeling and movement throughout the body below the level of the injury. The chances of recovery for patients with a complete spinal cord injury are low, particularly if paralysis remains for more than 72 hours. They may however, see some improvement over the first 12 months following their injury, especially with the right and appropriate rehabilitation.
  • Incomplete spinal cord injuries involve partial damage to the spinal cord where the ability to send messages to the brain is not completely lost. Some motor and sensory function remains although the effects of such an injury will vary enormously from person to person as the extent of damage to the nerve fibres will be different. People with an incomplete SCI are more likely to see some improvement in areas below the level of their injury but unfortunately this is never guaranteed, and again the need for timely rehabilitation is paramount.

Rehabilitation begins in hospital shortly after a patient’s injury. Once a patient’s spine has been stabilised they can progress to a structured and specifically tailored interdisciplinary programme involving a broad range of different health care providers specialising in physiotherapy, psychology, psychiatry, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy as well as managing the impact that such trauma has on key issues like bladder and bowel function.

Key Rehabilitation goals often include:

  • Helping patients understand their injury and the details surrounding their future care;
  • Helping patients regain a sense of independence;
  • Educating patients about their daily living skills, future health needs and the risk of SCI-related medical complications;
  • The promotion of physical and psychological well-being;
  • Helping patients reintegrate into their community environment by providing them with information about adaptive equipment, housing options and community resources.

Rehabilitation programmes will typically combine physical therapies with skill-building activities designed to improve patients’ quality of movement, core strength, joint range and posture. Rehabilitation will often centre on areas such as, mobility and bowel and bladder management, as well as health and skincare, bathing and dressing.

Psychological counselling is another key area needed to provide social and emotional support and help spinal cord-injured patients to adjust to the limitations and more permanent effects of their injury.

People who have suffered spinal cord injuries need substantial levels of care in order to maintain their health, well-being and independence and avoid potentially expensive and life-threatening complications, as well as regular reviews.

Where it is clear patients need rehabilitation, Slater and Gordon’s SCI experts together with the defendant’s insurer will arrange an independent assessment of their case.

For the thousand or so people who sustain a SCI in the UK each year, their priority should be on obtaining the highest standard of treatment and rehabilitation. In most cases, where someone has sustained a traumatic SCI, the subsequent care and rehabilitation costs form the largest part of any claim for compensation, enabling them to return to as much independence as possible.

Compensation can help provide options for people living and learning to cope with the reality of a SCI as the sudden change in lifestyle caused by such an injury is difficult enough without any added strain placed on finances.

Our Spinal Cord Injury solicitors help clients beyond simply securing financial compensation to ensure that support is always there. Slater and Gordon lawyers have access to a network of treatment providers and medical experts with a vast range of experience in helping people who have suffered spinal cord injuries.

Tim Deeming is a Senior Medical Negligence Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Cambridge.

He has more than a decade of experience working exclusively in this field and is an expert in catastrophic and spinal injuries.

If you or a member of your family are affected by spinal cord injury, please call our Spinal Injury team on freephone 0800 112 4938 or contact us online. Slater and Gordon Lawyers are experts in securing spinal injury compensation and getting rehabilitation support as quickly as possible.