The spinal cord extends almost the entire length of a person's back. It is responsible for transmitting nerve signals between the brain and regions of the body. Afferent neurons transmit sensory information to the brain. They are responsible for sensing a stimulus, such as smell, pain and touch. Efferent neurons carry signals away from the brain towards regions such as arms and legs. They are responsible for activating muscles that trigger movements such as walking.
A spinal cord injury can be a life-changing event. It often results in severe motor, sensory or other neurological impairments. The effects of an injury vary depending on the amount of damage and location of the injury. Generally speaking, the higher up the injury, (i.e. towards the head), the more significant loss of function a person will experience. An injury at the lumbar spinal cord region (L1-L5) may result in paraplegia. Similarly, injury at the cervical spinal cord region (C1-C4) may result in quadriplegia. Individuals with spinal cord injuries may have functional limitations, impacting their ability to participate in meaningful activities.
Recovery from a spinal cord injury can be a challenging and lengthy process. Occupational therapists are often involved in the treatment of spinal cord injuries and have many roles, including:
assess physical and cognitive functions
facilitate skills training programs for activities of daily living
recommend assistive devices and technologies to support independent living
adapt school environments to maximize learning
assess, evaluate and make modifications to home and work environments
provide education and psychosocial support to encourage lifestyle adaptations
recommend appropriate wheelchair and seating systems
support developing intimate relationships
facilitate the development of existing or new meaningful occupations
Reference: Occupational Therapy and Spinal Cord Injury. Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists. (n.d.) https://www.caot.ca/document/4071/Spinal%20Cord%20Injuries%20-%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf