Daily therapeutic sessions are often intense and tiring, but data from Shepherd Center's Outcomes Research System indicates that beginning a rehabilitation regimen within two weeks of injury can lead to increases in functional improvement.

Rehabilitation

The goal of spinal cord injury rehabilitation is to help patients regain function and sensation in the body so that they can begin to rebuild their lives with hope, dignity and independence.

The actual course of rehabilitation is unique to each patient, but here are some of the common features:

  • Regaining mobility - Some people with spinal cord injuries regain partial mobility. If the patient has the potential to regain some function, then rehabilitation therapists will work to accelerate that process and help return as much function as possible.
  • Learning new skills - Using a wheelchair for mobility is definitely different. Everyday functions from cooking to driving to using the restroom change. A combination of skill-based and occupational rehabilitation helps the patient learn how to do all of these things in new ways.

Shepherd Center's Activities of Daily Living Kitchen is a model that demonstrates how a few simple adaptations can make a kitchen wheelchair-accessible. Patients are encouraged to cook a meal or dessert here so they can begin to feel comfortable about working in their kitchens at home.

  • Gaining a new perspective - A big part of the recovery process is mental. The patient begins to understand that life has changed, and then learns adjustments that can make it nonetheless fulfilling. One big advantage of Shepherd Center is peer support. Because there are dozens of patients working through the program at the same time, at varying stages along the way, they can offer each other encouragement and support.

Having a spinal cord injury doesn't necessarily mean you have to stop driving. Adapted hand-controls on the steering wheel allow the driver to accelerate and brake. Certified driver rehabilitation specialists and occupational therapists can conduct evaluations and provide driving lessons to both new and experienced drivers with a wide range of disabilities.

  • Taking care - Because paralysis is normally combined with loss of feeling and decreased mobility, there are a number of new exercises to learn. Even the simplest day-to-day tasks may require retraining. For example, simply sitting in a wheelchair for too long can cause a problem. Why? Because people naturally shift their position while sitting to eliminate pressure points, but for a person without feeling and sensation this natural process stops. A person who sits too long in one position can cut off circulation to the skin, causing it to die and leaving pressure sores. Part of the rehabilitation process is learning to avoid problems like this.

Therapists often use standing frames to help patients stretch and strengthen their hips and legs and for general weight bearing.

  • Enjoying life - Although things change after a catastrophic injury, enjoying life doesn't have to stop. One of the best ways to adjust to lifestyle changes caused by a disability is to participate in meaningful recreational activities. In fact, studies show that participating in therapeutic recreation helps patients get better and reduces their risk of later medical complications. This is why Shepherd Center introduces recreational therapy to every newly injured patient. The Center has its own indoor pool, basketball court, weight room, arts-and-crafts room and greenhouse, so patients can swim, learn to play a variety of sports, paint, take photographs, or work in the garden as part of their therapy.

Rehabilitation can involve everything from an intense session with a physical therapist to a driving lesson to an hour of swimming. There is so much to learn that a typical patient's day is filled with activity.