The Role of Physical Therapy in Spinal Cord Injuries

A spinal cord injury can be as devastating as it sounds – it often means a permanent change in your body’s sensation and capabilities. The extent and duration of the injury is often impossible to determine, but physical therapy and exercise have been shown to have a universally positive effect.


The spinal cord conducts nerve impulses from the extremities to your core and everything in between, back and forth from the brain. Along with the brain, te spinal cord is the most integral part of the central nervous system. Among other sensory information, the primary motor cortex in the brain sends signals through the spinal cord that tell the body how and when to move. This is voluntary movement, not movement involved in life sustaining activities like breathing and blood circulation. When the spinal cord is damaged by an accident, communication with the nerves from the point of the injury downwards is disrupted. The signals that indicate sensation cannot reach the brain, and the brain cannot reach the muscles through the nervous system to cause movement.


Physical and occupational therapy begin almost immediately following a spinal cord injury. If there is any paralysis, whether temporary or permanent, the patient needs to strengthen muscles and learn alternate means of completing daily tasks. If the patient needs the assistance of a walker or wheelchair, physical therapy and exercise increase the ability to move independently.


Some benefits of physical therapy on spinal cord injury rehabilitation include:

·       Minimizing muscle atrophy

·       Improving breathing and circulation

·       Increasing mobility

·       Reducing feelings of depression and anxiety

·       Empowering patients to make a positive impact on their health


At Tucson Orthopaedic Institute, certified physical therapists work directly with physicians to develop a custom treatment plan that changes with any alteration in health or situation during the recovery period. Techniques that may be included in a treatment plan are manual therapy, aquatic therapy, electrophysiological agents, and more. Contact one of our convenient Tucson physical therapy centerstoday for a consultation, or request an appointment online.