Damage to the spinal cord results in a loss of mobility or feeling, depending on the location and severity of the injury. The spinal cord is the bundle of nerves that carries nerve impulses between the brain and the body. The brain and spinal cord make up the central nervous system. Protected within the vertebrae of the back, the spinal cord is about 18 inches long and runs from the base of the brain to somewhere around the waist. Injuries are named by their location on the spine and generally are more severe the higher on the spine they occur.
The first eight vertebrae in the neck are called the cervical vertebrae and are labeled in descending order from C-1 through C-8. Damage to the cervical spinal cord usually result in loss of function to the arms and legs, resulting in quadriplegia.
The 12 vertebrae in the chest are called the thoracic vertebra and, again, are labeled in descending order from T-1 through T-12. Damage to the thoracic vertebrae usually affect the chest and legs and result in paraplegia.
The vertebrae in the lower back are the lumbar vertebrae (L-1 through L-5) and the vertebrae running from the pelvis to the end of the spinal column are the sacral vertebrae (S-1 through S-5). Damage to the lumbar or sacral vertebrae generally result in some loss of functioning in the hips and legs.
There are two types of spinal cord injuries; complete and incomplete. Complete injuries affect both sides of the body and result in loss of function below the site of the injury, while incomplete injuries result in partial functioning below the primary site of the injury.
Each patient is evaluated by a spinal cord injury team operating under the leadership of a physiatrist. Together with the family, professionals in the fields of rehabilitation nursing; speech-language pathology; clinical nutrition; psychology; pastoral care; vocational counseling; case management; respiratory care; and physical, occupational and recreational therapies work with the patient to achieve the best outcome possible.
One of the most important parts of the treatment team is the family. The family is provided with training, professional support, education and counseling and works with the patient's treatment team to provide information about the patient's personality, lifestyle, and hopes.
The goals of the program are specific to each patient and injury, but overall are aimed at restoring, enhancing, and supporting the patient's maximum level of independence. Through inpatient, outpatient, day hospital, sub acute, and vocational rehabilitation programs, Siskin Hospital offers comprehensive rehabilitation at every level of treatment, from initial therapy to returning the patient to the community, school or work.
Components of Care
Spinal cord injuries are as unique as the patients in our program. Initially, patients focus on relearning the skills necessary to live and function with their injury.
Because most spinal cord injuries result in changes in respiration, urinary and bowel elimination, our team will work for appropriate intervention strategies and educate the patient on management and care of these issues. Our treatment team will also educate patients on the broader concept of sexuality and its embodiment of the patient's whole sexual being and reproduction.
Depending on the patient's progress, therapists help the patient relearn daily living skills to live as independently as possible. The individualized treatment plan is adjusted according to the patient's lifestyle and personal goals. Daily living goals may include nutrition, dressing, skin and personal care, mobility, communication, problem solving, vision, perception, leisure activities, driving, and returning to work or school. Patients may use our transitional living apartment complete with a full kitchen, bathroom, living and sleeping area to practice independent living skills in a supervised environment.
Therapeutic recreation specialists use leisure activities to enhance the patient's physical endurance and stamina while returning them to a familiar lifestyle. The treatment team also identifies adaptive devices that are needed for mobility.
To return to community living, patients participate in planned outings, using their newly acquired adaptive equipment, to confront obstacles in the community and learn strategies to overcome these barriers.
For some, successful return to work or school will only require minimal adjustment, but others may require assistance with finding a new career direction. The entire team, including the family, conducts evaluation and planning for the patient's vocational and educational needs.
Siskin Hospital offers a monthly spinal cord injury support group. The group discusses the challenges and implications of living with or caring for someone with a spinal cord injury. For more information, click here.