Can You Recover From a Spinal Cord Injury?

An injury to your spinal cord is often devastating, but that doesn’t mean recovery is impossible.

Unfortunately, 17,000 spinal injuries occur each year and enduring one will have a significant impact on your life. Any chance of restoring function and mobility is critical to improving your physical and mental health.

If you’ve recently suffered one or know somebody who has, then you’ll want to know what impacts your ability to bounce back from a spinal cord injury (SCI).

There are a few main factors that affect recovery, including the severity of the injury and how quickly it’s treated. Another aspect is if you were treated at a top rated emergency room or if you were seen at a less experienced ER. We’ll cover those topics below to help you understand what to expect going forward.

Future Outlook Depends on Severity

First, you need to know that your future outlook almost entirely depends on how severe the injury is.

When your spinal cord becomes damaged, a loss of nerve tissue results. These nerves are essential for mobility and good spine health.

Generally speaking, the lesser the amount of lost nerve tissue means the greater the chance of recovery. On the other hand, greater tissue loss means that recovery is much harder or even impossible.

The full impact of a spinal cord injury is determined through the use of an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). This will allow a doctor to see what neurodegenerative changes have occurred and how serious the wound is.

What this means is that not everyone can recover from a spinal injury. If there is too much nerve tissue loss, then the effects are irreversible. On the other hand, minor tissue loss should give you hope because this can be remedied. 

What Influences Recovery Chances?

Another thing to understand is that there is one other primary factor beyond severity that influences recovery chance. This is how quickly someone with a spinal cord injury seeks out treatment.

If your spine is injured, then you need to be immobilized as soon as possible. Failing to do this can cause further trauma to the spinal cord and exacerbate the issue.

Another reason for this is that immediate hospitalization will allow for steroid use. Steroids are only effective in the first few hours after an injury. These are helpful because they can reduce the amount of inflammation in the spine.

Once a patient is immobilized and has gone through a round of steroids, the next step is usually surgery. Not all SCIs require surgery, but those that do benefit by having it done immediately to limit the amount of time with pressure on the spine and restore stability.

The final aspect of quick treatment is that most improvements are seen within the first six months following the initial wound. If your SCI is fairly minor, it may not seem important to get treatment. However, if you ignore your injury, then it makes the chances for a full recovery much smaller.

How Are SCIs Treated?

Spinal Cord Injury Process

We outlined most of the treatment process above, but there are a few other significant steps that must be taken.

When someone with a spinal cord injury is initially immobilized, they are placed on a backboard or in a cervical collar. This is a temporary fix and must be swapped out for something more permanent.

After initial immobilization and steroids, a patient is then placed into a halo or traction device. This is important because it is a long-term solution for immobilization and stability.

Surgery then follows this step, but the treatment doesn’t end there. The rest of the process is focused on rehabilitation.

The primary goal of rehabilitation is restoring function and mobility. For some people with an SCI, the goal is to be able to walk again. Sometimes, this is achieved with the aid of assistive devices.

Intense physical therapy is common and necessary for recovery. The sooner the therapy is started, the greater a patient’s outlook is going forward.

Other Conditions Can Play the Deciding Role

One final important consideration is that other conditions can ultimately play a deciding factor for a spinal cord injury patient.

A harsh reality is that many people who suffer from an SCI are also plagued by other ailments. This can include things like complications with respiratory or cardiovascular systems, muscle spasms, bladder dysfunction, pressure ulcers, and chronic pain.

Even if a patient survives the initial injury, it’s hard to determine their future outlook because other conditions are unpredictable. Some of these illnesses can be deadly if they aren’t promptly treated.


On top of this, there’s also the prevalence of mental health issues like depression and anxiety. These can make a patient refuse treatment and neglect other complications that pose a threat to their life.

Many people who endure an SCI can recover and continue with their lives, but how they approach future treatment can determine their survival.  

Closing Thoughts

Recovery from a spinal cord injury is possible, but it ultimately depends on how severe the injury is and how quickly treatment is sought.

Serious injuries that result in paralysis are typically harder to recover from, but some patients do regain mobility and function with quick treatment. Most of the recovery happens during the first six months, which is why immediate medical help is essential.

Furthermore, this allows for rapid immobilization, steroid use, and surgery to address the damage to the spine. The faster a spinal cord injury is dealt with, the greater a patient’s chance of recovery is.

While many people will survive and recover from an SCI, the other conditions that arise are also important to treat. Anyone who has a spinal cord injury must be vigilant about dealing with any health issues to give them the best chance of living a long, healthy life.