Phone: (08) 6156 9363 – Mobile Physiotherapy Service Across the Perth Metro Area

Therapy WA Talks

Spinal Cord Injury and Physiotherapy

2nd February 2024

Hello and welcome back to our blog, Therapy WA Talks – HOW is it February already?

Here on our blog, we give an insight into what it is we at Therapy WA do, shining a spotlight on all thing’s physiotherapy, the weekly happenings of our therapists and giving our amazing clients a voice.

Therapy WA is a WA owned and ran mobile physiotherapy service servicing the Perth Metro area. Our focus is on making physiotherapy accessible to all, with a patient-centred, functional, and fun approach.

At Therapy WA a very large proportion of what we do falls into the Neurological Physiotherapy bracket, and a large proportion of our clients suffer with neurological conditions or injury. The neurological system is made up of our brain and spinal cord, and as we have already spoken about one injury to the brain (stroke), we felt this week it would be useful to talk about the spinal cord, and spinal cord injury. Spinal cord injury is unfortunately something that we see quite often in our daily caseload and can have life-altering and devastating effects on the person who has suffered the injury.  It is our job as physiotherapists to help the client navigate this life-changing injury, giving them the rehab and everyday tools to navigate their new reality. It is often one of the most rewarding aspects of our job, and we are amazed every day at the resilience, tenacity, and determination of our spinal cord injury clients.

In this blog, we will talk about what the spinal cord is, the pathophysiology of spinal cord injury (causes), and what role physiotherapy plays in the treatment and rehabilitation of spinal cord injuries.

The spinal cord is a vital component of the human central nervous system, serving as a communication highway between the brain and the rest of the body. It is a long, thin, tubular structure that runs along the vertebral column (spine) and is protected by the vertebrae, which are the bony structures that make up the backbone.


Key features of the spinal cord:


    • The spinal cord is cylindrical and extends from the base of the brain, known as the brainstem, to the lower back. It is approximately 17 to 18 inches in length in adults.
    • The cord is composed of nervous tissue, primarily nerve fibres, which transmit signals between the brain and the peripheral nervous system.


    • The primary function of the spinal cord is to facilitate the transmission of sensory and motor signals between the brain and the rest of the body. Sensory signals from the body travel to the brain, providing information about touch, pain, temperature, and other sensations. Motor signals from the brain travel down the spinal cord to control voluntary movements of muscles throughout the body.


    • The spinal cord is protected by the vertebral column, which consists of individual vertebrae stacked on top of each other. In addition to the bony protection, the spinal cord is surrounded by protective membranes called meninges and is cushioned by cerebrospinal fluid.


    • The spinal cord is divided into segments, each corresponding to a specific region of the body. There are eight cervical segments (C1 to C8) in the neck, twelve thoracic segments (T1 to T12) in the upper back, five lumbar segments (L1 to L5) in the lower back, five sacral segments (S1 to S5) in the pelvic area, and one coccygeal segment.

Spinal Nerves:

    • Exiting from the spinal cord are pairs of spinal nerves, which are responsible for transmitting signals to and from specific regions of the body. These nerves connect to various muscles, organs, and tissues, allowing for the intricate coordination of bodily functions.

Understanding Spinal Cord Injuries:

Complete vs. Incomplete Injuries:

    • A spinal cord injury can be classified as either complete or incomplete. In a complete injury, there is a total loss of sensation and motor function below the level of the injury. In an incomplete injury, some function remains below the level of the injury, offering varying degrees of hope for recovery.

Traumatic vs. Non-Traumatic Injuries:

    • Traumatic spinal cord injuries are often caused by accidents such as falls, car crashes, or sports-related incidents. Non-traumatic injuries, on the other hand, can result from conditions like tumours, infections, or degenerative diseases.


    • The location of the spinal cord injury determines the extent of impairment. Injuries closer to the brain can lead to more severe consequences, affecting a larger portion of the body.

Common Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries:

Accidents and Trauma:

    • Motor vehicle accidents, falls, and sports injuries are common causes behind traumatic spinal cord injuries. The sudden impact can cause fractures, dislocations, or compression of the spinal cord.


    • Acts of violence, including gunshot wounds and physical assaults, can result in devastating spinal cord injuries.

Medical Conditions:

    • Non-traumatic spinal cord injuries may stem from medical conditions such as tumours, infections, or degenerative diseases like spinal stenosis or multiple sclerosis.


How Can Physiotherapy Help:

Physiotherapy plays a pivotal role in the rehabilitation process for individuals with spinal cord injuries. Here’s how we at Therapy WA work to help our clients who suffer this type of injury.

 Mobility and Strength Training:

    • Physiotherapists work on enhancing muscle strength through targeted exercises, and working around the level of impairment. This helps individuals regain as much independence as possible. Depending on the level of spinal cord injury and extent of damage, often significant improvements can be made in terms of function, transfers and independence.


Balance and Coordination Exercises:

    • Balance and coordination is often compromised in spinal cord injury cases. Physiotherapy focuses on exercises that improve balance and coordination, reducing the risk of falls and enhancing overall stability.


Pain Management:

    • Chronic pain is a common challenge for those with spinal cord injuries. Physiotherapists employ various techniques, including massage, stretching, and modalities like heat and cold therapy, to manage pain effectively.


Assistive Devices and Adaptive Techniques:

    • Physiotherapists assist individuals in adapting to mobility aids and devices that facilitate daily activities. They also teach adaptive techniques to help with transfers, navigate challenges and promote independence.


Respiratory Care:

    • For individuals with higher-level injuries affecting respiratory muscles, physiotherapy interventions include respiratory exercises to maintain lung function and prevent complications like pneumonia.

Spinal cord injuries are life-altering events that demand comprehensive and individualised care. Therapy WA employs a holistic approach to rehabilitation, and our therapists will work towards regaining our clients as much independence as possible. Our clients have returned to work, exercise, hobbies and even camping, and very often return to the aspects of their life they enjoyed prior to the injury. We realise the diagnosis of a spinal cord injury can be devastating and extremely difficult to process and overcome. Our role is to help you on your journey, with support, encouragement, and a listening ear every step of the way.

Please reach out if you have any questions

Take care and talk soon 