March 28, 2024

Can A Spinal Injury Fully Heal?

Doctor helping a man

Can a Spinal Injury Fully Heal?

Spinal cord injuries affect the bundle of nerves used to transmit messages from the brain to all body areas. These injuries can cause significant impairment of body functions.

If you or a loved one has suffered spinal cord damage, you might wonder, “Can a spinal cord injury heal?” or “Can spinal injuries heal themselves?” This article answers those questions and provides insights into preventing and treating these injuries.

Understanding Spinal Injuries

Spinal cord injuries occur when spinal nerves are damaged or severed. They can affect movement, feeling, and strength in areas served by the damaged nerves.

A spinal cord injury can be incomplete (the spinal cord still has some ability to transmit messages below the injury point) or complete (with no feeling or function below the injury point). Symptoms of spinal cord damage include:

  • Tingling, numbness, or loss of sensation in the hands and feet
  • Weakness in affected body areas
  • Inability to control bladder or bowel function
  • Changes in sexual function
  • Pressure or pain in the back, neck, or head
  • Trouble walking
  • Breathing problems
  • Complete loss of movement in the affected area (paralysis)

Groups of nerves (cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral spinal nerves) control different areas of the body. For example, the cervical spinal nerves transmit signals to the arms, hands, shoulders, neck, and the back of the head. Severing these nerves causes loss of sensation and function in those areas.

Can spinal cord injuries heal? That depends on several factors, most notably the degree of injury. The most severe spinal cord injuries (“A” on a scale of “A” to “E”) rarely heal. Injuries in the other categories can heal to some degree over time.

Do Spinal Injuries Get Worse with Time?

Spinal cord injuries can worsen with time, typically due to bleeding and swelling at the injury site. Consequently, it’s imperative to get immediate medical treatment for spinal injuries.

The healing potential is affected by the severity of the injury, the elapsed time between damage and treatment, and the person’s overall health. How long does a spinal cord injury take to heal? When healing occurs, the improvement typically occurs within the first six months after the injury. In complete spinal injuries, the spinal cord healing time window is shorter — typically just a few days.

Current Treatments and Rehabilitation

The spinal cord injury healing process occurs in two stages. The first stage is the period immediately following the injury. Doctors and nurses work to stabilize the patient, ensure their heart and lungs are working correctly, and protect the spine from further damage (often with a cervical collar and medications to reduce inflammation).

Next, they determine if the damage is affecting movement in the arms and legs. In some cases, imaging procedures like MRIs and CT scans are performed to get more details on the injury and its effects. Surgery may be required to repair damage to the bones and tissues near the injury site.

The second stage of the healing process takes place outside the hospital. It may include physical and occupational therapy. Many who suffer spinal cord injuries also receive counseling to help them process what has happened and adjust to the new challenges they face.

How to Live with a Damaged Spinal Cord

People who suffer spinal cord injuries can go on to live full and rewarding lives. Support from family and friends, ongoing therapy and counseling as needed, and community resources are essential for achieving that goal.

There are countless stories of patients who have overcome the challenges of spinal injuries and paralysis to be happy, productive people whose determination and perseverance inspire everyone around them.

Prevention and Awareness

Spinal cord injury healing is typically minimal at best. Consequently, it’s crucial to do all you can to avoid damaging your spinal cord. This includes steps like refraining from high-risk activities, wearing appropriate protective gear in sports and other activities, using your seatbelt when in a car, etc.

Learn More About How to Heal from Spinal Injury

Can spinal cord injuries heal? Research into treatments for these injuries is ongoing. However, doctors currently can’t repair damage to the spinal cord, and the body can’t heal or replace damaged nerves. Consequently, knowing how to prevent spinal injuries and acting on that knowledge is essential.

Managing spinal injuries to enable the highest possible quality of life is a team effort. You can find Baptist Health providers using our online directory.

Learn More.