A spinal cord injury is often the result of a traumatic event such as a motor vehicle accident, significant fall, sports related injury, gunshot wound, or industrial accident. Injury to the spinal cord can also arise from other disease processes (osteoporosis, rheumatoid disease) that cause a weakening of the sur-rounding bones and soft tissues. Statistics show that young, healthy men have the highest risk of spinal cord injuries.
Injury to the spinal cord can occur from the cord being compressed, pulled, or cut by outside forces. Internally, swelling or bleeding within the cord can also cause damage.
Severity of a spinal cord injury is classified as being complete or incomplete. In a complete injury, all motor (movement) function and sensory (feeling) function is lost below the level of the injury. Preserva-tion of motor or sensory function below the level of the injury refers to an incomplete injury.
Some of the symptoms that occur from an injury to the spinal cord include pain, numbness, weakness, and paralysis, loss of bowel and/or bladder control, spasticity, inability to walk, and difficulty breathing.
When a spinal cord injury occurs in the neck region, the arms, trunk, and legs can all be affected. Injuries to the mid and lower back can result in loss of control with either leg, the bladder, and/or bowels.
In some cases, obvious injury to the spinal cord may not be readily apparent. An immediate medical examination is warranted following any type of significant head or neck injury. The medical provider likely will order tests which may include x-rays, CT scan, MRI, and in some cases SSEP testing.
Spinal cord injuries are condition that require emergent evaluation and treatment. Delays in treatment can result in permanent complications and even death.
Treatment is based on the location and severity of the injury(s) identified. Medications such as steroids are often used to minimize swelling on the cord. Surgery may also be required to remove pressure off of the spinal cord, remove fragments of bone or foreign bodies, and fuse vertebral segments together to reduce harmful motion.
Recovery from a spinal cord injury depends highly on the location of the injury, specific nature of the injury, promptness of treatment, and overall health of the individual involved. In some cases, recovery can take a year or more. In other cases, loss of function and/or sensation may be permanent.