Life After Paralysis: What to Expect
Victims of Spinal Injuries Often Struggle With Uncertainty
A spinal cord injury can, in an instant, turn every aspect of your life upside-down: your health, your career, your relationships, your hobbies, and even your sense of identity.
For spinal injury victims who are living with paralysis after a car accident, truck accident, or similar traumatic event, one of the most frustrating aspects of life after the accident can be the uncertainty. Spinal injuries and their effects are incredibly complex, and even the best doctors may struggle to give victims a detailed prognosis, especially early on.
In this article, we’ll try to help by discussing some of the realities that victims who live with paralysis often face after a spinal cord injury. While it’s impossible to cover every possible scenario that can arise from these complex injuries in a single blog article, we hope this overview will give you some valuable resources and help you set some realistic expectations in terms of what you might experience.
The Location of Your Injury Matters
Just like brain injuries, no two spinal cord injuries are alike. How much control you have over your limbs and body after a spinal injury depends on two main factors: How severe the injury is and where it happened along your spinal cord.
Doctors refer to the severity of spinal cord injuries as “completeness” and usually classify them as one of the following:
- Complete: If you don’t have any feeling or ability to control your movement below the point of your injury, your injury is considered complete.
- Incomplete: If you have some feeling or ability to control movement below the point of the injury, then your injury is considered incomplete.
The location of the injury along your spine, meanwhile, will determine what areas of your body are affected. Doctors usually classify paralysis from a spinal cord injury as one of the following:
- Quadriplegia: Also known as tetraplegia, this type of paralysis affects all four limbs.
- Paraplegia: This type only affects the lower limbs.
- Hemiplegia: This is paralysis of one side of the body.
- Monoplegia: Paralysis affecting a single limb or area of the body is called monoplegia.
No matter how severe your injury appears at first, it’s important that you don’t give up hope. Even victims suffering from paraplegia or quadriplegia can improve their outlook and quality of life through physical therapy and a healthy lifestyle.
While it might seem hard to believe that a positive attitude, good nutrition, and a few simple exercises could help heal the massive trauma you’ve suffered, victims can — and do — make amazing progress through therapy and rehabilitation.
Other Symptoms That Often Happen Along With Paralysis
Paralysis is only one aspect of a serious spinal cord injury. Because your spinal cord is a crucial part of your central nervous system, damage to it can cause all sorts of symptoms and changes throughout your body.
Depending on the location and severity of your injury, you might experience symptoms like:
- Loss of bladder and bowel control
- Loss of sensation, including the ability to feel heat, cold, and touch
- Pain or intense stinging sensations at the site of the injury
- “Phantom pain” or tingling sensations in other locations in the body, especially in limbs that are paralyzed or have experienced a loss of function
- Difficulty breathing, coughing or clearing secretions from your lungs
- Exaggerated reflex activities or spasms
- Changes in sexual function, sexual sensitivity, and fertility
- Skin problems, including rashes and bedsores, due to lack of activity
Because spinal cord injuries have so many potential symptoms, it’s important to plan for potential complications. You, your family, and your doctor should work together to decide what kinds of measures your care team will take in case you experience a sudden and serious health problem.
Mental Health Challenges Are Common for People With Paralysis
Studies have shown that almost half of spinal cord injury survivors suffer from mental health problems that include depression, anxiety, clinical-level stress, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Unfortunately, many victims don’t seek help until they’re already experiencing serious symptoms.
However, just like with many physical health conditions, treatment for mental health issues is most effective when it’s given proactively, before symptoms even start. After a spinal injury, don’t wait for mental health issues to become severe. Speak with your doctor as soon as possible about mental health care options that can work in cooperation with your overall treatment and rehabilitation plan.
After a spinal cord injury, it’s important to seek psychological support from licensed professionals. While your friends and loved ones will be there for you, they don’t have the experience and training of a clinical therapist or other mental health professional.
And if you ever begin to experience suicidal thoughts in the wake of your spinal cord injury, reach out for help immediately. You can talk with a loved one or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for 24/7 guidance and support.
How to Talk With Loved Ones About Your Injuries
If you’ve been paralyzed by a spinal cord injury, it’s only natural that your loved ones will have lots of questions about your injuries and your long-term outlook. Unfortunately, this can lead to some frustration because your prognosis may not be set in stone during the weeks and months after a spinal cord injury. It will take time for bleeding and swelling to go down before doctors can learn the full extent of your injury, and you may not have much solid information to give people at first.
Try to handle these types of questions by giving simple, honest, and direct answers, even if it means telling someone that you really don’t know. If people are confused by this, explain to them that spinal cord injuries are complex and take time to evaluate, even when you’re working with the best care team available.
The Financial Realities of Living With Paralysis
Although money is probably the last thing on your mind if you’ve just suffered a serious spinal injury, it’s important to understand the serious financial challenges that people who live with paralysis face.
Besides the massive medical bills associated with your initial surgeries and treatment, there will be lots of long-term costs associated with your care. You’ll have a long road of physical therapy and rehabilitation ahead of you, and you may experience health complications over time that require you to receive more treatment or even additional surgeries.
To accommodate your new lifestyle and limitations, you’ll have to make changes to your home. You may have to install ramps, widen doorways, and purchase devices that help you with daily tasks like dressing and grooming. All these various expenses add up quickly, and they can create serious financial stress for you and your family.
If you’ve suffered a spinal injury because of someone else’s careless behavior — like in a motor vehicle accident — you shouldn’t have to bear these costs by yourself. You may be able to receive financial compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering by working with an experienced attorney and filing a personal injury claim.
Contact Atkins & Markoff if You’re Living with Paralysis Due to Someone Else’s Negligence
A spinal cord injury can leave you with a seemingly endless list of questions, especially if your injury occurred due to another person’s careless behavior. If you’re struggling in this situation, the team at Atkins & Markoff is here to help.
With more than 100 years of combined experience and more than $100 million recovered for our clients, we’re ready to fight aggressively for justice and compensation on your behalf if we can take your case. We handle all personal injury claims on a contingent fee basis, which means you won’t pay attorney’s fees unless we get you a settlement or win your case in court.
If you’ve been seriously injured because of someone else’s negligence, call us at 405-607-8757 or fill out our quick and easy online contact form to schedule your free initial consultation with an attorney from the Atkins & Markoff team today.
Living with a spinal cord injury. (n.d.). WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/brain/tc/living-with-a-spinal-cord-injury-overview
Migliorini, C., Tonge, B., & Taleporos, G. (2008, April). Spinal cord injury and mental health [abtract]. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 42(4):309-14. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18330773
Spinal cord injury: Symptoms and causes. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/spinal-cord-injury/symptoms-causes/syc-20377890
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.