Spinal Cord Injury Treatment & Rehabilitation

Treatment for Spinal Cord Injury

Unfortunately there’s no way to reverse damage to the spinal cord; treatment for a spinal cord injury focuses on preventing further damage and empowering the injured person to have an active and productive life.

Emergency & Hospital Care

Treatment for a spinal cord injury often begins at the scene of the accident; paramedics will act to stabilize the injured person’s heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and other vital stats. To prevent further injury, the person’s head and neck may be fitted into a brace to immobilize their spine, and their body may be secured to a stiff board to restrain their movement. Once at the hospital, a series of tests such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs are performed to help physicians determine the extent of the injury. In cases of severe injury to the neck area of the spinal cord, respiratory problems may occur that require intubation (giving oxygen through a tube inserted down the throat) to help the injured person breathe.


A traumatic spinal cord injury may require surgery to remove foreign objects, bone fragments, or herniated disks that are compressing the spinal cord.


Rehabilitation helps an SCI survivor re-adjust to life both physically and emotionally. It is important to begin rehabilitation as soon as possible to prevent muscular atrophy and to address emotional or psychological concerns early on. A number of specialists may assist in recovery including a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, a rehabilitation nurse, a rehabilitation psychologist, a social worker, and a physiatrist. Physical therapy begins in the hospital to help the injured person regain strength and control in their limbs and body parts. An occupational therapist will help with fine motor skills and accomplishing every day tasks; for example, the injured person may have to learn how to manage their bowel and bladder, walk with crutches, do breathing exercises, and move between a wheelchair and another location (e.g. a bed). Also, the person will learn how to use adaptive devices that enable them to function independently. Following the hospital recovery, the patient will likely continue daily therapy either at a rehabilitation facility or by an in-home therapist. In some cases, a rehabilitation facility may be required for specialized care or advanced therapy.