Spinal Cord Injury

1 What is Spinal Cord Injury?

A spinal cord injury is a damage to a portion of the spinal area (nerves or cord) located at the end of the spinal canal.

This may cause permanent alterations in sensation, strength, and other functions of the body, particularly below the area of injury.

Having a spinal cord injury seems to be like your life will change in every aspect. Researches are being conducted to help make spinal injury repairs possible.

Treatments and therapies are available to help cope with spinal injury.

2 Symptoms

Symptoms of a spinal cord injury vary greatly depending on the exact injury.

Two factors generally affect the ability to control the limbs after an injury to the spine.

First is the area where the injury is. Second, the severity of the injury itself.

In spinal cord injury, the severity is referred to as “completeness”, which is classified as complete and incomplete. When the area below the site of injury has lost almost all sensory and motor functions, the injury is called “complete”.

On the other hand, if there are some sensory and motor functions below the area, the injury is “incomplete”. In addition, incomplete spinal cord injury has varying degrees. 

Any kind of injury to the spine may cause:

  • Loss of sensation, movement, or both,
  • Loss of bowel and bladder control,
  • Changes in sexual function,
  • Problems in fertility,
  • Spasms or exaggerated reflexes,
  • Pain,
  • Intense stinging sensation,
  • Breathing difficulties,
  • Coughing with secretions.

In addition to these, keep an eye for emergency signs and symptoms that can take place after an accident. These are:

  • Extreme back pain,
  • Pressure in the head, neck, or back,
  • Incoordination, weakness, or paralysis in any body part,
  • Numbness or loss of sensation in fingers and hands, as well as the feet and toes,
  • Loss of bowel control,
  • Loss of bladder control,
  • Balance impairment and difficulty walking,
  • Breathing difficulty after injury,
  • The back or neck is positioned in an odd way.

3 Causes

Spinal cord injury is caused by a damage to the disk, ligament, or vertebrae of the spinal column or the cord itself. 

Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury

A traumatic spinal injury is caused by a sudden, powerful blow to the spine, which can result in fractures, dislocations, or compressions in one or more vertebrae. The injury can also be a result of a knife or gunshot wound, which penetrates and damage the spinal cord. Over time, the injury may have additional damage due to swelling, bleeding, inflammation and accumulation of fluid. A non-traumatic spinal cord injury, on the other hand, may be a result of arthritis, inflammation, infections, cancer, or spinal disk generation.

In the United States, the most common spinal cord injury causes are:

  • Motor vehicle accidents. More than 35% of spinal cord injuries each year are caused by motorcycle and automobile accidents. 
  • Falls. For people aged 65 and older, spinal cord injuries are often caused by falls. Overall, over ¼ of spinal cord injuries are due to falls. 
  • Acts of violence. Violent encounters, which usually involve knife or gunshot wounds are liable for more or less 15% of spinal cord injuries.
  • Sports and recreational activities. Around 4% of spinal cord injuries are a result of athletic activities like diving and other impact sports. 
  • Alcohol. 1 out of every 4 cases of spinal cord injuries is due to alcohol use.
  • Diseases. Osteoporosis, spinal inflammation, arthritis, and cancer can cause injury to the spine.

Spinal cord injury is a result of a damage to the disk, ligament, or vertebrae of the spinal column or the cord itself.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Making a diagnosis of spinal cord injury is done by performing several tests.

Traumatic spinal cord injuries are considered as emergencies. A group of specialists may help in making your condition more stabilized. Specialists including a neurologist (specialist in nervous system disorders) and neurosurgeon (surgeon with specialization in injury of the spine and other conditions of the nervous system). Apart from them, a rehabilitation team is also useful.

The emergency room (ER) doctor may diagnose spinal injury with careful inspection and some tests that evaluate sensory and motor functions. If neck pain is present, and if the person is not fully awake, emergency diagnostics tests are required.

Here are the tests and procedures that help diagnose a spinal cord injury:

  • X-rays. This procedure can show problems in the spinal cord, such as fractures and degenerative changes.
  • Computerized tomography scan (CT Scan). To provide a more detailed image of the abnormalities present on the X-ray results, a CT scan is requested. The scan features a series of cross-sectional shots that define the disk, bones, and other components of the spinal area. 
  • MRI. MRI or magnetic resonance imaging utilizes radio waves and magnetic fields to create computer-generated images. MRI is very useful in looking and identifying blood clots, herniated disks, spinal cord compression, and other possible injuries.

5 Treatment

Spinal cord injury cannot be reversed. However, researches for treatments, such as medications and prostheses are being done by experts. To date, the focus of treatment is on preventing the injury from becoming worse, as well as the rehabilitation after it. 

Initial treatment. Treatment initially takes place at the site of accident or incident. In the ER, the doctor will focus on:

  • Retaining the ability to breathe
  • Preventing the occurrence of shock
  • Keeping the neck immobilized to prevent further damage

Most of the time, the person is sedated to keep him or her from moving, which can aggravate the situation. Diagnostic tests that will help rule out the injury will be done. If spinal cord injury is present, there is a possibility you will be admitted to the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) for maximum treatment and care.


Medications are available in treating the symptoms of spinal cord injury, as well as help it heal faster. An acute spinal cord injury is dealt with the drug methylprednisolone, which is typically given intravenously.


Surgeries are often required to remove bone fragments, herniated disks, fractured vertebrae, or foreign objects that can be present in the spinal area. The procedure is also done to stabilize the spine, which may prevent deformity and future pain. 

Experimental treatments

There are some experimental treatments being used by some, which claim to control inflammation, stop cellular degeneration, and stimulate nerve generation. 

Ongoing care

Once your situation becomes more stabilized, the doctors focus on preventing any complications that may take place.

The length of your hospital stay depends on your medical condition. Therapies and treatment will be required once you are well enough to do these. Further medications and certain types of therapies may be needed. 

6 Prevention

To help prevent a spinal cord injury, the following are good advices:

  • Drive safely. Among the top causes of injury in the spine are car crashes. Buckle up, use a child safety seat for children under 12 years, and drive safely.
  • When diving, check water depth first. Diving in shallow water is very dangerous. To avoid this, always check the shallowness and do not dive into a pool with less than 9 feet depth. 
  • Prevent falls. When reaching for objects in high places, always practice safety. Place nonslip mats on bathroom floors to avoid slipping. Block stairs with safety gates and install window guards if possible, particularly if you have small kids around.
  • When playing sports, take extra precaution. Use safety gear. Avoid using your head in force. If you are in gymnastics, always use a spotter, especially when doing new moves.
  • Don't drink and drive. Drunk driving or driving under illegal substance is really dangerous, which can lead to injury to you and other people. 

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