Spinal cord injury is most commonly caused by trauma like car accidents, falls, work/industrial incidents, and sporting activities like diving into shallow water. However, some spinal cord injuries are caused by medical conditions like tumors or cysts on the spine or viral/bacterial infections (e.g., polio). In Canada, there are about 4,300 new spinal cord injuries each year and an estimated 86,000 Canadians are living with the effects of a spinal cord injury.

Causes of spinal cord injury

A spinal cord is a bundle of nerves about 18 inches long that runs from the base of the brain down the back. It is protected by vertebrae (bones that make up the spine) and is a body’s communication superhighway. It sends messages back and forth from the brain to control movement and feel sensation. When the spinal cord is injured, messages can no longer get through, resulting in loss of feeling and paralysis below the injured part of the spinal cord. Spinal cord injury can also affect how some internal organs work.

How physiotherapists help

Physiotherapists can assess how the injury has affected your ability to move then develop strategies to help optimize movement and function. Physiotherapists help by:

  • Determining if some recovery is possible in paralyzed limbs. If so, they help regain or maximize the ability to use affected limbs
  • Teaching new ways to move
  • Teaching long-term movement skills like walking with mobility aids or wheelchair skill training
  • Providing education and exercises to prevent future mobility problems

Your physiotherapist will:

Help you reach your safe and maximum physical potential. Treatment can vary depending on your injury, but can include:

  • Limb strengthening and stretching exercises
  • Retraining sitting or standing balance, moving in bed and getting in/out of wheelchair
  • Assessing and skill training for mobility devices (power + manual wheelchair, walkers, bracing devices)

During rehabilitation, your physiotherapist will monitor your progress to help reach your recovery goals. Once the initial physiotherapy treatment is completed, it may be helpful to seek additional or follow-up treatment in your community.

Find a physiotherapist who treats spinal cord injuries.