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Will you land on your feet after a spinal cord injury?

A serious accident can turn your world upside down in a matter of seconds. Those first days seem like a whirlwind of doctors, nurses and information that you might not quite understand. Your doctor told you that you suffered an incomplete spinal cord injury, but understanding what that actually means might be a challenge.

Hospital staff and well-meaning friends and family tell you that your condition "could be worse," but to you, the situation just seems bad. They say that knowledge is power, so understanding more about your current condition could alleviate some fear and help provide you with some perspective on what lies ahead.

Why do doctors call it an incomplete spinal cord injury?

An incomplete spinal cord injury means that you retain some sensation below the injury to your spinal cord, which remained intact. If you suffer only partial paralysis, you might make a full, or mostly full, recovery. In contrast, a complete spinal cord injury means total paralysis below the injury because the trauma to the cord severed it, which significantly reduces the chances of recovering any sensation or muscle movement over time.

How long does it take to recover?

The extent of the damage and the amount of sensation and movement you retain often dictate your chances of recovery. Not all patients with an incomplete spinal cord injury fully recover, especially if they suffer total paralysis in the beginning. Simply put, if you felt that needle the doctor poked your leg with, your chances of recovery increase dramatically.

Even the slightest improvements in the first days, weeks and months after a spinal cord injury provide hope that you will walk again. The longer you go without any improvement, the less likely a full recovery will happen. No doctor will give you a guarantee regarding your recovery since too many variables exist.

With so many unknowns, how do I move forward?

When it comes to this type of injury, taking things one day at a time might seem like good advice, but you need to plan for your future and the future of your family. Not knowing what will happen one year, two years or even three years from now makes that a difficult task. Working, paying bills and participating in activities with friends and family become nearly impossible in the beginning, and returning to these activities might take a significant amount of time.

Obtaining long-term benefits such as Social Security Disability could prove problematic as well. Since many people recover from incomplete spinal cord injuries, at least enough to work, you might not qualify for benefits until the full extent of your injuries becomes clear, and this could take more than a year. In the meantime, the medical bills keep coming, and your financial life suffers since you cannot work.

In addition, your physical recovery takes enough of a toll on you and your family, but your mental state suffers as well. You will experience good days and bad days. You could develop anxiety associated with the accident itself. Even if you fully recover, your life may never be the same.

The accident was not my fault. Can I take legal action?

If someone else's actions caused your injuries, you could file a personal injury claim. Any compensation you receive could help with the financial losses you experience both now and in the future. Consider talking to a West Virginia attorney. He or she will advocate on your behalf with insurance companies and the courts so that you can continue to focus on your recovery.

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