MEDICAL TREATMENT: Treatment and Rehabilitation After a Spinal Cord Injury

If you suffer a spinal cord injury, prompt recognition and treatment is of paramount importance. Initial medical assessment at the accident scene will focus on minimizing the affects of your head or neck trauma. Emergency personnel will quickly immobilize your spine, often using a hard neck collar and a body board, as they prepare you for transport to a hospital.

Your preliminary evaluation at the hospital will include careful examination and testing of motor and sensory function. Radiographic testing such as x-rays, computerized tomography (CT) scan, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be used to look for any injury to your spine or spinal cord.  After some of the initial swelling at the injury site goes down, additional testing and evaluation may take place to determine the level and full extent of your injury.

The severity of a spinal cord injury is often described as either “complete” or “incomplete.” If almost all of your sense of feeling and motor function is lost below the level of the spinal cord injury, the injury is classified as complete. If you have some motor or sensory function below the level of injury, then your spinal cord injury is considered incomplete. Paralysis from a spinal cord injury is also often referred to as paraplegia or quadriplegia.  Paraplegia refers to paralysis that affects your lower body including your trunk, legs and potentially your bowel and bladder. Quadriplegia means that your arms, hands, trunk, legs and bowel and bladder (and potentially your breathing) are affected by your spinal cord injury. Quadriplegia usually involves an injury to your spine in the neck or upper back (cervical spine) area.

If you do have a spinal cord injury, you will probably be admitted to the intensive care unit of the hospital. There you will receive specialized care from a team of experts which may include neurologists, neurosurgeons, psychologists, counselors, nurses, therapists, and social workers. Medications such as Methylprednisolone (Medrol) may be given for an acute spinal cord injury.[1]  Traction may be used to immobilize and stabilize your spine. Metal braces, a body harness, or a special bed may be used. Surgery is often indicated to remove anything that is compressing your spinal cord.

After the initial evaluation and efforts to stabilize your spinal cord injury, your doctors will focus on preventing complications such as infections, blood clots, muscle deconditioning, and bowel and bladder issues. After you are strong enough, you will begin rehabilitation either at the hospital or a specialized rehabilitation facility.

Your rehabilitation teams will include physical therapists, occupational therapists, recreation therapists, rehabilitation nurses, psychologists, social workers, dieticians, and a physician specialized spinal cord injuries or in physical medical (known as a physiatrist).

During rehabilitation, your medical team will focus on maintaining and improving your existing muscle function, helping you relearning fine motor skills, and teaching you new ways to adapt to life after a spinal cord injury. You will be educated on living with a spinal cord injury, learn new skills, and be introduced to new technology that will make your life easier. With hard work and focus, you will be able to return to many of the same activities you engaged in before your injury, including work, activities, sports, and hobbies.

New technologies can help people with spinal cord injuries become more independent and mobile. Modern wheelchairs are more advanced and lighter. Some electric versions can even climb stairs. Computer adaptations including voice recognition software may be available to assist people with limited hand function. Many electronic devices in your home can be modified to operate with voice controls or by using a programmable remote control.  New functional electronic stimulation (FES) devices controlling arm and leg muscles can allow some people with a spinal cord injury to stand, walk, reach and grasp.  Modifications to your vehicle may allow you to drive again.  Home modifications such as ramps, special sinks, and grab bars, will allow you to live more independently. Many of these items can be found at Mobility Super Center (formerly Mobility Center of VA).

About Jason W. Konvicka: Jason W. Konvicka is personal injury attorney experienced in handling catastrophic injury and casos de muerte por negligencia.  He is a member of the medical malpractice team at Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen.  He also represents persons severely injured through the use of defective drugs and medical devices. Jason has been recognized for significant verdicts and settlements for clients in spinal cord injury, wrongful death, lesión cerebral traumática, y Casos de accidentes de tractores y remolques.  Mr. Konvicka is AV rated by Martindale-Hubble and is listed in Los mejores abogados de Estados Unidos.  He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy and he has successfully argued before the Virginia Supreme Court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

[1] For more information about the use of Medrol during the first 8 hours after a spinal cord injury, see reference in Mayo Clinic article “Spinal Cord Injury” Treatment and Medications” at but also see report “Methylprednisolone for acute spinal cord injury: not a standard of care” at