Whether you are new to the challenges of spinal cord injury or several months along the path, your life today is not the life you expected. It is the life you have. You can still make your life a source of happiness.

Spinal cord injuries are not just a minor inconvenience. They can affect several internal and external body functions.

Mechanism of injury

Spinal cord injury, while a general medical category, is an entire series of injury profiles. Many injuries occur in transportation-related accidents, sports such as football or cheerleading, and even from degenerative disease processes. Another categorization is injury location and severity. Injuries higher up on the spine may result in quadriplegia (paralysis to some degree of all limbs and other functions). Injuries lower on the spine may leave the upper body intact and functional.

Transection is the degree of cord disruption. If part of the cord is still intact, it is possible a person will retain more function than a cord that is not intact. In a few cases, partial transections can heal, but there is no guarantee your body will return to pre-injury condition.

Challenges of a spinal cord injury

The challenges of a spinal cord injury are overwhelming, no matter how severe the injury. Even the most basic movements may be frustratingly awkward or impossible. Personality plays a big role in adjustment to a catastrophic injury. Some people seek the extreme negative edge, believing that they will never improve at all. Others form an overly positive picture that, with enough effort, they can get “back to normal” given enough time and determination. Reality is somewhere along the continuum, rarely out at extremes.

Start by really listening to your medical team. Go through each system of your body and ask the prognosis for improvement in that area, based on your unique injury. If your injury is very recent, they may need to wait for swelling to subside before giving you a realistic idea of possible improvement. Keep in mind that nearly everyone with a spinal cord injury can make progress. Also, accept that your progress will have a life of its own. It will happen in its own way and time, as long as you persevere. Suspend expectations, and move forward.

Three major moves toward success

There are three important things you can do to maximize the opportunity to live your life to the fullest.

First, whoever fully or partially caused your accident is accountable for your injuries. Put that process into action now, while details are still fresh and medical records are available. There are caring professionals who will fight for your rights with understanding and compassion, not pity. Make use of them.

Next, give physical therapy a chance. It can increase your ability to live more independently.

Finally, get emotional help. People with spinal cord injuries commonly suffer depression, anxiety or PTSD. These are treatable mental conditions. Get mental health therapy and give yourself the best chance of shaping a good future. Your emotions will govern the path of your recovery. With a nonjudgmental outlook, you can be open to progress, accept it, and discover that life, even with a spinal cord injury, can be very much worth living.