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Recovering from an incomplete spinal cord injury

In many ways, a person with an "incomplete" spinal cord injury has it much better than someone with a "complete" (paralyzing) spinal cord injury. With an incomplete spinal cord injury, you may still be able to walk and have more sensation, better sexual function, and better bladder and bowel control. However, you still face many challenges.

In this blog post, we will look at some of those challenges and what you can do to improve your chances of recovery.

Four major problems arising from an incomplete injury

 Research performed by Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colorado, found that people with incomplete spinal cord injuries face four major problems:

1. "Wait-and-see"

Often, a person with an incomplete spinal injury can start to recover somewhat on their own. In these cases, the treating doctor will advise you against doing certain activities such as lifting or making strenuous movements, even though you think you can. This can result in stress and anxiety.

2. Pain

It's good to feel pain, because that's proof that your body is recovering. But feeling pain is not fun. It can also be evidence that you are harming a shoulder, hip or knee joint. Be sure to inform your doctor when you feel pain. He or she may want to perform some diagnostic tests to understand the exact nature of the problem.

3. Fatigue and weakness

Half of all people with incomplete spinal injuries who can walk complain about fatigue and muscle weakness. And this problem usually gets worse over time. Craig Hospital recommends that you inform your doctor when this occurs. It also recommends that you ask your doctor or physical therapist to take baseline measurements of your strength or sensation, and periodically take these measurements to see what is happening. Your doctor or therapist may also recommend changing your exercise routine and activities.

4. Emotional issues

It defies logic, but it appears that people with incomplete spinal cord injuries suffer emotional problems at a higher rate than those with complete spinal cord injuries. These include:

  • Depression
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Overconsumption of alcohol

Spouses may also abuse alcohol or suffer depression, and children can exhibit behavioral problems. In addition, people with incomplete injuries report higher incidence of financial problems than do those with complete injuries. This is probably because those with incomplete injuries find it more difficult to obtain disability benefits.

What you can do to improve your situation

Craig Hospital also provides some helpful advice for people with incomplete spinal cord injuries:

  • Get thorough and frequent medical examinations.
  • Expect your condition to get worse following an operation, illness, or stressful life event.
  • Get the proper equipment that can make your life better. And keep in mind the fact that equipment and technology improves over time.
  • Don't ignore minor changes in your body, but don't obsess over them either.

If you suffered an incomplete spinal cord injury while working, you may be able to claim workers' compensation benefits. Speak with an attorney if you need help getting the benefits you deserve.

The first blog post in this series is: What is an incomplete spinal cord injury?

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