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Thread: Does spontaneous recovery really happen?

  1. #1

    Does spontaneous recovery really happen?

    I was at the dr's office the other day and I was stopped by a nurse on the elevator. She asked me what happened that put me in a wheelchair. I was a little annoyed at first but then she went on to explain that she had been in a wheelchair for 5 years following a car accident and had an indwelling catheter etc etc. And then one day, it all came back and she was able to walk again. She was walking completely normally, I wouldn't be able to tell she had a spinal cord injury by looking at her.

    Is this kind of thing possible, or was this nurse just trying to instill some hope?

  2. #2
    Quote Originally Posted by BoyFallDown View Post
    just trying to instill some hope?
    ive had people tell me similar stories. i believe its what i quoted you above.

  3. #3
    i have heard similar stories but never met a person actually . one person i was told walked after 14 years !

  4. #4
    google Pat Rummerfield

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by DIGGER View Post
    google Pat Rummerfield
    Very interesting story! I've never heard of him before. However his recovery came after years and years of rehab, not what I would call "spontaneous" :P

  6. #6
    Well it must be true...I saw it on "Downton Abbey"

    In the case above, how do we know that this woman had a SCI? There are other traumatic injuries (peripheral nerve, musculoskeletal, etc.) which can put someone in a wheelchair temporarily. There are also cases of conversion reaction (which I have seen a number of times) where the person is paralyzed temporarily...often for months or even years in spite of having no physical damage to the cord or even peripheral nerves. And of course, there is malingering (faking) injury as well. The latter two can be very difficult to distinguish, but there are tests such as SSEPs that are used to determine if there is actual cord damage or not.

    Lots of people say they have a SCI when what they really had was a spinal fracture or ruptured disc without neurologic damage. We see it on these forums daily.

    Not to say that spontaneous recovery NEVER happens, but a healthy dose of skepticism is probably best when it occurs overnight. True cord damage return (other than recovery from spinal concussion in the first 24-48 hours) doesn't happen that way.


  7. #7
    Pat Rummerfield also wasn't spontaneous by any means - he had slow and gradual progression from the beginning. He's still an absolutely amazing person, having done the Ironman triathalon and many other extreme triathalons (one across the Gobi Desert...) despite still having some SCI related issues such as little-to-no sensation below his shins. After he finished the Ironman he was on bedrest for nearly a month while they did skin graphs on the soles of his feet because he'd quite literally ran them off during the race. He just published an autobiography "Green Banannas" that is a good read for anyone with a SCI, it's easy to relate. He also still is active with Dr. McDonald and Kennedy Krieger.

    I think Frank Reynolds would be a good example of supposed "spontaneous recovery". If I remember correctly, his story is he basically sat in bed for 3-4 yrs reading after his accident then suddenly woke up one day with some sensation and started recovery and is now good to go.

    I have a friend who's father in law supposedly had the same thing happen roughly 4 yrs post. He was a c7 incomplete. To me, it is one of those things that I wont believe until I see.

  8. #8
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    hampton bays new york
    Spontaneous? Not me, a lot of work and setbacks. I almost ran once, down a hall with a gurney railing and a cane. If I ever get the chance I'll try it again, I love a challenge. 8 1/2 years and counting,, and no help yet, just a little is all I ask.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by MarcT View Post
    I think Frank Reynolds would be a good example of supposed "spontaneous recovery". If I remember correctly, his story is he basically sat in bed for 3-4 yrs reading after his accident then suddenly woke up one day with some sensation and started recovery and is now good to go.
    Frank Reynolds went in for spinal surgery and came out paralyzed. He was not in an accident so there was probably no "major" trauma to his spinal cord. This may be why he recovered walking.

  10. #10

    Recovery after Spinal Cord Injury

    Most people recover some function from spinal cord injury. If you have "incomplete" spinal cord injury, i.e. ASIA B or C during the first days after injury, you have about a 40% and 90% chance of recovering unassisted locomotion within a year. If you have ASIA A, you have a high probability of getting sensory recovery for at least 2 dermatomes below the injury site within a year and many people have even more sensory recovery. For example, Christopher Reeve recovered sensation down to his knees and it took several years. Most people recover at least one and perhaps two segmental levels of motor function below the injury site. At the present, over 60% of people who are hospitalized for spinal cord injury in the United States have "incomplete" spinal cord injuries. Furthermore, since 1991, methylprednisolone has been used and our trials show that people who get the drug recover on average about 20% more motor and sensory function than those who don't get the drug. This usually translates into 2-3 segments more recovery. In other words, a large majority of people, probably 70-80%, recover significant function from spinal cord injury. Very few people recover nothing.

    The more severe the injury, the longer it takes for recovery to occur. Of course, less recovery occurs. One question that I frequently get is whether intensive locomotor training will yield walking recovery in people with chronic spinal cord injury. Many groups have studied this question and I think that there is general agreement in the literature that recovery of unassisted locomotion in people who are chronic ASIA A is rare, even if they engage in intensive locomotor training. On the other hand, a majority of people who were ASIA C shortly after injury but did not engage in locomotor training and did not walk after injury should improve their walking from locomotor training. In the mid-1990's, Wernig [1] showed that 76% of such people recovered "independent" locomotion from treadmill training.

    An unanswered and controversial question is how much and what kind of locomotor training is necessary and sufficient to improve walking. There has been much interest in weight-supported automatic walking, using machines like a Locomat but little evidence suggest that these devices are better than overground walking. Because weight-support harnesses cannot be applied for longer than an hour because it may cause pressure sores, most such training are limited in time.

    Recovery of voluntary manual strength and dexterity is usually limited after ASIA A injuries. Partial recovery of biceps (C5) and wrist extensors (C6) can occur after ASIA A injuries at C4. Predictors of such recovery include recovery of pinprick sensation in the fingers. If you look at the sensory dermatomes for the hand, you will find that C6 represents the thumb, C7 the middle finger, and C8 the pinky. Recovery of pinprick sensation in these fingers often heralds motor recovery of the wrist extensors (C6), triceps (C7), and finger flexors (C8).


    1. Wernig A, Muller S, Nanassy A and Cagol E (1995). Laufband therapy based on 'rules of spinal locomotion' is effective in spinal cord injured persons. Eur J Neurosci 7: 823-9. Department of Physiology, University of Bonn, Germany. Rehabilitation of locomotion in spinal cord (s.c.) injured patients is unsatisfactory. Here we report the effects of a novel 'Laufband (LB; treadmill) therapy' based on 'rules of spinal locomotion' derived from lower vertebrates. Eighty-nine incompletely paralysed (44 chronic and 45 acute) para- and tetraplegics underwent this therapy, then were compared with 64 patients (24 chronic and 40 acute) treated conventionally. The programme consisted of daily upright walking on a motor driven LB initially with body weight support (BWS) provided by a harness and assisted limb movements by the therapists when necessary. Forty-four chronic patients with different degrees of paralysis undertook the programme for 3-20 weeks (median = 10.5), 0.5-18 years after s.c. damage. At the onset of LB therapy 33/44 patients were wheelchair-bound (no standing and/or walking without help by others) whereas at the end of therapy 25 patients (76%) had learned to walk independently, 7 patients with help [corrected]. Only 1 subject did not improve. It was striking that voluntary muscle activity in the resting position was still low in several patients who had gained walking capability. Eleven patients who could already walk before LB therapy improved in speed and endurance. Of the 44 patients, six were capable of staircase walking before LB therapy compared with 34 afterwards. In order to validate the apparent superiority of LB therapy two types of comparisons were performed. In a 'temporal' control 12 spastic paretic patients, still wheelchair-bound after the period of postacute conventional therapy, performed LB immediately thereafter. After completion of LB therapy nine of these patients had learned to walk without help from others.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS).

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