The role of rehabilitation when recovering from spinal injuries
Written by Chris Harrold, Associate & Personal Injury Solicitor
There are an estimated 50,000 people in the UK living with a spinal cord injury and each year approximately 2,500 people are newly injured.
Unfortunately, for those who suffer a spinal cord injury, their life, and often those of their families are turned upside down in an instant, leaving them with many questions about what the future will hold. Dealing with life after injury impacts all aspects of a person’s life and this is where rehabilitation plays such a fundamental role.
What is the goal of rehabilitation following a spinal cord injury?
Every spinal cord injury is unique and therefore any rehabilitation must also be tailored around the injured party to support them, and to help maximise their ability to adapt, adjust and go on to lead an independent and fulfilling life.
That being said, there are some common goals which rehabilitation seeks to achieve:
- To improve the quality of life after injury
- To maximise independence
- To keep levels of activity as high as possible, despite reduced function
- To facilitate neural recovery, when and where possible
- To help determine any lifelong care needs to minimise the occurrence of long-term complications
The different stages of rehabilitation
- Acute Rehabilitation: The first stage of the rehabilitation journey is known as the ‘acute phase of rehabilitation’. This is the initial immediate treatment that the injured party receives following an injury and will often take place at a major trauma centre who will complete a full assessment of the injuries to determine the true nature and severity of the injuries. They will consider and carry out surgery if required.
- Inpatient rehabilitation: After the acute phase of rehabilitation, the patient will start the next stage in the rehabilitation journey, known as inpatient rehabilitation. This may take place within the major trauma centre, or they may be transferred to a specialist centre who specialises in providing rehabilitation for those who have suffered a spinal cord injury. The primary focus will be to consider what therapeutic input the patient might require, to build up and improve strength and functional ability. The ultimate aim will be to provide education and support to enable the spinal injured party to adapt and develop various new skills, so they can be as independent as possible with completing tasks of daily living, and helping ensure that that they will be better equipped to manage once discharged back home.
- Outpatient rehabilitation: This is the rehabilitation that continues after being discharged from hospital or spinal rehabilitation centre. This is where the patient is able to put into practice all of the skills they have learned during the inpatient rehabilitation stage. Discharge should not mean the end of rehabilitation, and ideally this should continue, in order to ensure the best possible recovery.
Rehabilitation after discharge can be a daunting and overwhelming prospect. Instructing a case manager to support with this transition can be invaluable, as they can assist with assessing specific ongoing rehabilitative needs, with discharge planning from hospital, and can also help to organise and put in place a private rehabilitation team once home.
For those who are pursuing a legal claim in relation to the injury, our specialist team can assist with the instruction of a case manager. We have great relationships with many specialist case managers up and down the country, who will be able to ensure continued access to rehabilitation for as long as is required. The case manager will also be able to assist with vocational and recreational rehabilitation to help ease the return to work. They will also help individuals to access or try out activities that can provide mental and physical stimulation, as well as the ability to socialise with others who have suffered similar injuries.
Who will be in the rehabilitation team?
A rehabilitation team consists of various clinicians who have experience supporting those with a spinal cord injury. Whilst not an exhaustive list, the team may include a Consultant in Spinal Cord Injury, Dietitian, Nurses, Orthotist, Occupational Therapist, Pharmacist, HCPC registered Clinical/Counselling Psychologist and Liaison Psychiatrist, Physiotherapist, Speech and Language Therapist, Urologist, and Recreational and Vocational Therapists.
The rehabilitation team will not only be able to prescribe treatment for any associated complications of spinal cord injury but will provide education on wider issues such as shoulder protection, wheelchair maintenance, spasticity management, pain management, bladder and bowel management, tissue viability, sexual function and fertility, and respiratory & ventilator management if needed.
Assistive technology and adaptations
Rehabilitation also offers the opportunity to trial equipment and assistive technology that will help with mobility, and with the ability to carry out daily tasks. Consideration will also be given to the injured person’s external needs following discharge; considering whether their accommodation is suitable, or whether any adaptions need to be made to their home. Patients may also be referred to social services, for a more detailed assessment.
Patients may be signposted towards charities such as the Spinal Injuries Association (SIA) to ensure access to guidance, that will maximise and make the most of life after injury, and to support a reintegration to the community, following a discharge from hospital.
How long will rehabilitation take?
Everyone’s rehabilitation journey is unique and there is no definitive answer as to how long rehabilitation will take, but it is not uncommon for rehabilitation to continue for in excess of 18 months. What is important, is that access to rehabilitation is available at the earliest possible opportunity so as good a recovery as possible can be achieved and that the injured party has the support and assistance to help them adapt to life following injury.
At Fletchers, we understand the importance of rehabilitation and the difference it can make. We want only the best for our clients and seek to arrange rehabilitation at the earliest possible juncture and ensure that it continues for as long as required to ensure the best recovery, independence and quality of life can be achieved following injury.
If you or a loved one has suffered a spinal cord injury, we want to help in any way we can. For more information on how we can help, please contact us online.