Bournemouth Physiotherapy
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Spinal Cord Injury


The spinal cord is a thick bundle of nerves that runs from the brain to the lower back.  It travels in the vertebral canal, which is a hollow in the centre of the spine.  The spinal cord is a very important part of the central nervous system.  It is responsible for carrying signals between our brain and the rest of our body.  For an example we will look at what happens when you pick up a mug of tea.  The spinal cord carries messages from your brain to the muscles in your arm and hand, telling them how to move in order to place your hand on the mug.  The spinal cord also carries messages back up to the brain about the cup. If it is cold or hot, how heavy it is.  This enables you to safely get the cup to your mouth without spilling any tea on you, and without burning your mouth.

The spinal cord can be damaged through trauma such as a road traffic accident or a fall from a height.  It can also happen due to non-traumatic causes such as spinal tumour or spinal stroke.

The injury is classified as either complete or incomplete, and the level of the injury is established by assessing sensation and muscle strength.  When a person suffers from spinal cord damage they experience loss of sensation and of muscle power below the level of injury.  If an injury is complete, this means that no messages are getting below the level of the injury, so there is complete loss of sensation and function.  If the injury is incomplete, then some of the messages can get through.  This means that there will be some preservation of sensation and muscle activity below the level of injury.

Physiotherapy is usually commenced in hospital following spinal cord injury.  Many people find benefit in continuing physiotherapy following discharge home from hospital.  At East Cliff Physiotherapy we can establish an appropriate treatment plan following assessment.  Treatment will vary according to the level of injury, and if it is classified as complete or incomplete.  If an injury is complete then the focus of physiotherapy is normally on:

-teaching compensatory strategies in order to gain as much independence as possible

-returning to leisure activities

-maintaining muscle length and reducing spasms

-preventing complications such as respiratory infection.


With incomplete injuries, there is more scope to see improvements in muscle activity and power over a long period of time.  In this case physiotherapy will work on maximising recovery through:

-movement re-education

-balance training

-walking retraining.

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