What Is the Best Treatment for Spinal Cord Injury?
Despite the miracle of modern medicine, there is not yet an all-out cure for spinal cord injury (SCI), so the best treatment revolves around preventing further damage and increasing a patient’s quality of life as much as possible. Nonetheless, research never sleeps in the medical world, and researchers are constantly experimenting with new treatments for SCI, some of which have shown considerable promise.
Immediate Treatment for SCI
At the scene of the injury, paramedics start by immobilizing the spine through the use of a neck collar before transporting the patient to the hospital. Once there, emergency room personnel further immobilize the spine and focus on maintaining the patient’s breathing. Depending on the circumstances, emergency room physicians might perform emergency SCI surgery to:
- Remove tissue or fluid that is putting pressure on the spinal cord
- Remove disk or bone fragments
- Place spinal braces
- Fuse broken spinal bones
Additionally, emergency room staff might administer Methylprednisolone, a steroidal medication that sometimes improves the condition of SCI patients. Methylprednisolone is most likely to work when physicians administer it within eight hours of the injury. It’s unknown exactly why it works, but experts speculate it has to do with decreasing inflammation near the site of injury and minimizing nerve cell death.
After a few days have passed, emergency room physicians may need to conduct additional tests to determine the extent of the injury. This generally involves testing muscle strength and the patient’s ability to feel sensation in their extremities.
Long Term Treatment for SCI
Most long term treatment for SCI is focused on teaching patients how to manage their injuries and lower their risk factors. Depending on the specifics of the injury, SCI patients can benefit from:
- Exercise and diet strategies to avoid obesity and diabetes, for which SCI patients are at a much higher risk
- Devices to assist with mobility, such as walkers, wheelchairs or leg braces
- Functional electrical stimulation, which can help with autonomic, sensory and neuromuscular function
- Strategies for bowel and bladder management and grooming
- Adaptive communication devices
- Physical therapy to improve mobility and muscle strength
For some SCI patients, this list of long term treatments may be a bit disheartening. However learning to manage an injury to the spinal cord can substantially improve their quality of life today and in the future.
Current Research and Experimental Treatments
Although the benefits of experimental treatments could be substantial, it’s important for SCI patients to keep their expectations realistic. That said, there are some exciting prospective treatments that are still in their experimental stages.
One such experimental treatment is adipose stem cell therapy. The Mayo Clinic is conducting the trial, and for eligibility requirements and more details you can go here. For patients considering one of many questionable experiments or clinical trials, there is a good guide, which was released in part by the International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries (ICORD). It’s located here.
Cost of SCI Treatment
SCI treatment, generally speaking, runs up an outrageous medical bill; it’s not unheard of for treatment to cost as much as $1 million in the first year and $5 million over the course of a patient’s life.
This is why SCI patients should talk to an attorney as soon as they can after their injuries. Collaborating with a spinal cord injury lawyer means high chances of never having to pay any medical bills while also getting the treatment you need on a regular basis. Without appropriate and ongoing treatment, SCI patients run the risk of missing out on improvements that could affect their quality of life for the rest of their lives.