Your First Steps
Planning for recovery should start while still in the hospital.
With each day and month that goes by the body and brain adapt to its new environment making improvement harder to achieve.
The first six months
During this timeframe, your future will be determined. Waiting too long to begin the recovery process causes the body to adapt to the SCI environment. Without proper stimulation, gravity, and load bearing, the human body will deteriorate. This means you begin losing bone density, muscle mass and central nervous system function. In the SCI environment, muscles are controlled by tone and spasms and have shortened to fit the wheelchair.
These issues can be reduced or avoided through targeted exercise.
More and more doctors and hospital staff are referring newly injured clients to The Next Step Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Centre. Most of these clients start right out of the hospital (with doctor’s clearance) and because of this, they have not adapted to the SCI environment and improve faster than many others.
You can’t predict your future but with our program you have an opportunity to influence the outcome.
Your recovery plan should begin the day of your injury. It is imperative that you research and understand the facts of your injury. What you are being told in the hospital and rehab is based on the last 50 years of occupational medicine; not recovery.
The Next Step Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Centre exists to provide Australians with spinal cord injuries, access to a leading recovery programmes that optimises their quality of life, overall well-being and fosters independence.
Important Things You Need To Know
Your treatment today
Your treatment today should be focused on regaining function. Start today and you will give yourself the best chance. Your focal point should be below the level of injury. Most of our C and mid T level injuries respond to load bearing and closed chain exercises. We have our newer injuries up in gait trainers, on FES bikes, and working out while in the standing position. Many clients starting three or four months post have never been on anti-spasm or pain medications because the nervous system is getting stimulated to heal in a functional manner.
Our client’s progress slowly and with each improvement comes an increased quality of life and independence. Many of our C level clients are out of power chairs and driving again, going to school and back to work, and are healthier than their peers who do not train below the level of injury. By working only the non-paralysed body parts you are almost guaranteeing you won’t recover function below your level of injury.
Through understanding and educating yourself on the long term benefits of The Next Steps programs, you will recognize its importance to your overall well-being, regardless of whether you walk or not.
Results of traditional treatment
Of the over 11,000 spinal cord injuries that occur a year in Australia, only a small percentage regain the ability to recover in some capacity. The reason is not always the injury, but the lack of treatment. It has been speculated that our new clients would be getting better without our program because they are less than a year post injury and, in most cases, incompletes. If this is the case, why are the majority of our clients regaining function beyond what the traditional model states possible for the injury level? Why are thousands of other injuries each year not progressing past their perceived level of recovery? It is the treatment.
If you place an able-bodied person in a reduced gravity environment; tell them they can’t move for a year; heavily medicate them; and give them no hope; what will be the outcome? Bone density, muscle mass, and nervous system activity would begin to shut down and disappear. That able- bodied person would have the same symptoms of a paralysed person. So, is it just the injury or the treatment that keeps some SCI paralysed? We know that not every new injury will regain their desired function, but since our opening, a significant number of our clients have regained greater function than believed possible based on the injury level.
Is recovery guaranteed?
Nothing in life is guaranteed, but if you do nothing to promote recovery, you are almost guaranteed a life without it. Taking care of yourself and taking control of your future is what makes life worth living. At The Next Step SCI Recovery Centre we can’t promise that you will walk again however, we do promise the best facility, a positive environment for healing, the best and most highly trained and skilled staff in the field of exercise-based recovery and a long-term, realistic plan that fits your needs as an individual.
How long should I wait before I start my recovery?
Once you are no longer in ICU and transfer to rehab, are healthy, and have your doctor’s clearance, you should start. Every day, every month, and every year that you sit in your wheelchair without nervous system stimulation, the harder it will become to regain function. With this injury your body is like newly poured concrete. IE/ In the beginning you can mould it, but once it sets, it is extremely difficult to work with. We have seen incomplete clients two or more years post injury struggle tremendously with tone and spasm because they did not receive the proper stimulation early on. The unfortunate thing is that these individuals are not alone. Each year hundreds of people wiggle their toes, get return of sensation down their bodies, some can even create movement, but they are told these occurrences are common and don’t mean anything. But it does mean something; it means everything. Your future depends on nervous system stimulation to improve.
Educate yourself, determine your goals, and try everything in your power to regain function. During this time, you will be improving physically and mentally, proactively increasing your quality of life.
What is the timeline to regain function?
There is no timeline or deadline for regaining function. Each person and injury is different. It’s only when someone actually regains function that we know they are healing.
Think of recovery as a lifetime process; it only stops when you stop trying.
The doctor tells us we have up to two years to recover
The doctors are correct in one aspect of the two-year window theory, your body is trying to recover and most people see the majority of their gains in the first two-years. If your body is trying to regain function, why not do everything in your power to increase your chances. The nervous system won’t improve without external stimulation and traditional treatment doesn’t work the paralysed body. Without stimulation, your body will deteriorate. You will lose muscle mass, bone density and central nervous system activity. Increase your chances of recovering by changing your environment and increasing your nervous system stimulation. You can still recover function well past the two-year mark. The magic two-year mark is based on the assumption you do nothing to improve during that time. And, over the last 50 years or so, most people have not gotten better after the two year mark. The longer one waits to try to recover, the harder it becomes, but it is not impossible. We have worked with people three plus years post injury who are still regaining function. Our message to you is don’t wait. Take advantage of your body’s desire to heal before it is too late.
How long is a recovery program?
There is no set standard on how long it will take to regain function. Every person has their own goals and desired outcomes and works towards their needs. Each person, no matter the level of injury, is the same, therefore, you can’t compare yourself to others because each person regains function differently.
Spinal Cord Injuries are like snowflakes – no two are the same!
Recovery is a lifetime program and includes all aspects of your life. What you do outside of The Next Step SCI Recovery is equally as important as what you do inside. Successful clients who are regaining function become independent, go back to school or work, and are surrounded by supportive family and friends.
At The Next Step recovery means more then walking again. It means being able to live a greater quality and more independent lifestyle. We celebrate ALL achievements whether they are physical or mental!
Because there is no timeline for recovery, you must develop and implement a life plan.
Everyone needs hope. Without hope you can’t recover.
Should I give up everything and try to recover?
No! You cannot give up your life, family and friends, etc. to pursue recovery!
Recovery isn’t just physical, and it definitely isn’t just about being able to walk again.
Recovery is about being able to regain independence, finding ways to enjoy the things in life that made you happy before you were injured, and most importantly to be able to live a happy and full filled life – TO BE HAPPY!
Clients who keep their support network and continue on with life are recovering. Outside of training, be active, play sports, go skiing and horseback riding, go back to school or work. In life, the most successful, happy people are well-rounded.
You must stimulate your lower body or you will not regain function/use of it.
This is a true statement. Humans don’t work as individual parts, the body is one unit and the nervous system has multiple complex jobs. One of its primary functions, however, is to deal with gravity by creating a stable upright posture. When you introduce gravity to the postural skeletal muscles, you stimulate the nervous system creating a demand on this primary function. Since the muscles of the legs have the longest and strongest levers they are the easiest to stimulate. As the muscles of the legs regain strength, they create a demand on the muscles within the pelvis to help with stabilization. This in turn helps to stimulate the muscles of the abdomen and low back to further assist with stabilization.
Unless you treat the body with load bearing and closed chain exercises using developmental movement patterns, you will achieve very little improvement.
Symptoms showing potential to regain function:
Moving a toe – You have the potential to regain function in your legs. Your toe is furthest from your injury site so if a signal can get all the way down to the toes, we can attempt to fill in the gap.
Spasms, burning, tingling, pain, or any type of sensation that goes down your legs – You have a dysfunctional nervous system which can be trained. If you begin your recovery as soon as you are healthy you won’t allow spasms to control your life. The majority of our clients that have regained movement or sensation, had spasms (uncontrolled muscle contractions), and over time were able to control them. The majority of our clients are off pain and spasm medications.
If you can move only one muscle in your leg, you have a greater chance of restoring all of them. Most injuries cause a strong side and a weaker side of the body. This is normal and needs to be addressed early on. Training only the strong side results in more dysfunction which will eventually cause walking to be almost impossible. Stimulating the dysfunctional weaker side with developmental movement patterns creates balance, ultimately resulting in a functional gait.
*Please note, while The Next Step SCI Recovery Centre works alongside medical professionals, we are NOT doctors and our advice comes from what we have seen with our own eyes, and what research is and has shown us.
This information is a recommendation, not a guarantee!