Spinal Cord Injuries In Children: Expert Explains Causes, Management Measures, And Benefits Of Physiotherapy

Dealing with Spinal Cord Injury can be difficult for children and have a profound impact on their lives. Here’s how physiotherapy helps in management.

Did you know Spinal Cord Injuries (SCI) can have a profound and lasting impact on a person’s life? They occur when the spinal cord, which is a long, thin bundle of nerves that runs from the brain down the back, is damaged.

It can be caused due to several factors, such as car accidents, falls, or sports injuries. According to the Global Spine Journal, 1-10% of children who are below nine years old are suffering from SCI in India.

We spoke to Dr Harmanjeet Shah, Singh Senior Consultant, Pediatrics, Orthopaedics, who explained SCI, its causes, prevention and benefits of physiotherapy in children.

“The spinal cord, which is said to be the main pillar of the body, is a bundle of nerves that serves several critical functions in the human body. It acts as a vital conduit for transmitting signals between the brain and the rest of the body”, said Dr Shah.

He added, “It processes vital information through sensory neurons and transmits these signals to the brain for sensations, such as touch, pain, temperature, and proprioception (awareness of body position and movement)”.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), SCI incidence rates vary globally, with higher rates reported in low- and middle-income countries due to factors like road traffic accidents, poor infrastructure, falls, and violence.

Impact Of Spinal Cord Injuries

The most common causes of SCI are traffic accidents, falling from a high place, etc. Such injuries disrupt spinal cord functions at the distal level and cause severe disability in affected patients.

It has a deep impact on a person’s life, but when it happens to a child, it becomes a matter of concern for the entire family as the future of the child comes into danger.

“It hampers the ability of the child to perform simple daily tasks, such as walking, reaching, and grasping, as well as involuntary movements, such as reflexes”, highlighted Dr Shah.

Managing Spinal Cord Injuries

Dr Shah listed the management measures for dealing with SCI as follows:

  • Acute medical care
  • Surgery (if necessary)
  • Rehabilitation therapies
  • Assistive devices
  • Long-term support to maximize functional abilities and quality of life

However, early detection and starting physiotherapy are also seen as crucial components for the rehabilitation and management of spinal cord disorders.

Benefits of Physiotherapy

Physiotherapy has emerged as an opportunity in the rehabilitation process of children with spinal cord injuries. Also, with advancements in SCI physiotherapy techniques, significant improvements are being seen in the physical function and overall well-being of children affected with SCI. Dr Shah listed some of them as follows:

Restoring Mobility

The primary aim of physiotherapy is to relieve instability in children with spinal cord injuries. Physiotherapists help children strengthen muscles, improve movement, and regain functional abilities, such as sitting, standing, and walking through tailored exercise programs.

Preventing Secondary Complications

“Secondary complications, such as shrinking of muscles, pressure sores, and respiratory problems, are caused by SCI wherein physiotherapy helps by successfully applying strategies”, added Dr Shah. This includes improving positioning, skin integrity, and respiratory function, thereby preventing additional complications.

Increasing Respiratory Function

Due to injury to the spinal cord, the chest muscles become weak and the lung capacity also reduces, which adversely affects the respiratory function. Physiotherapy here increases lung capacity through chest and respiratory exercises helping affected children in increasing stamina, energy levels, and overall health.

Promote Neurological Recovery

Physiotherapy interventions stimulate neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to reorganize and form new neural connections. Through repetitive movements, exercises, and sensory stimulation, physiotherapy encourages the brain to adapt and rewire neural pathways, facilitating recovery of lost function or compensatory strategies.

Improve Quality Of Life

Beyond the physical realm, physiotherapy is effective in fostering resilience, promoting self-efficacy, and supporting individuals in navigating the emotional and social dimensions of their recovery journey.

SCI Prevention Tips

Parents have a significant role to play in avoiding SCi in children. Dr Shah listed some of the tips as follows:

Supervision and Safety

Small children should always be cared for at high places like rooftops, stairs, mountains, big swings, etc.

Parents should keep in mind that while driving a car, they should use adjustable and protective seat belts according to the height of their children.


Parents should educate the children about being more mindful when indulging in risky tasks and ensure safety by following critical rules and instructions, such as climbing, playing on the playground, or participating in sports.


Children should consume foods containing Vitamin D like eggs, mushrooms, milk, fruits, etc. Vitamin D helps keep bones strong. Additionally, a healthy weight helps in keeping SCI away.

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