Spinal cord injury

Spinal cord is a major bundle of nerves that runs down the middle of your back conducting impulses to and from the brain to the rest of the body. It is usually surrounded and protected by the rings of bones, called vertebra. These bones constitute the vertebral column or backbone.

A spinal cord injury can be the result of direct trauma to the nerves or indirect damage to the soft tissues, bones, and vessels surrounding the spinal cord. Spinal cord injury results in the permanent changes in strength, sensation, and other body functions below the site of the injury. The spinal cord injury is not always a complete cut off of the cord. It can be either bruising or tearing of nerves as well.

The spinal cord injuries can be of two types; either a complete damage with loss of both sensory and motor function or an incomplete damage with the loss of either of them.

Signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of spinal cord injury depend on two factors which include the place of the injury on the spinal cord and the severity of the injury.

Spinal cord injuries may result in one or more signs, and symptoms mentioned below:

  • Loss of movement
  • Loss of sensation
  • Loss of bowel and bladder control
  • Pain or an intense stinging sensation
  • Exaggerated reflex activities or spasms
  • Difficulty breathing, coughing or clearing secretions from your lungs
  • Changes in sexual function which include sexual sensitivity and fertility

Prevention or self- management

Spinal cord injuries can be minimized by following some safety measures. For example-Driving safely by wearing seat belts can avoid injuries during auto accidents. Checking the depth of the water before diving can prevent injuries. Practicing safety measures such as using a stool or watching your steps can avoid falls. Taking precautions before involving in any sports can avoid injuries.

Causes

Spinal cord injuries are usually caused due to severe trauma. Sometimes even when a person sustains a break in the backbone, there may not be any spinal cord injury.

The common causes of spinal cord injuries are auto accidents, falls, acts of violence, injuries due to sports and recreation, alcohol and few diseases such as cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis and inflammation of the spinal cord.

Complications

Areas often affected due to spinal cord injury and damage includes:

  • Depression
  • Excessive pain
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Ill effects on sexual health
  • Loss of bowel movements
  • Loss of circulatory control
  • Damage to the respiratory system
  • Loss of muscle tone leading to spasticity or flaccidity
  • Loss of skin sensation to things such as heat or cold

Spinal cord injury is a medical emergency. Your doctor may diagnose spinal injury with careful inspection, evaluation your sensory function and movements and may ask few questions about the incident.

Emergency diagnostic tests may be needed if you suffer from neck pain, unconsciousness or has signs of neurological injury.

These tests include:

  • X-rays
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

A neurological examination is conducted to determine the level of your injury once the swelling has subsided. The neurological examination involves testing your muscle strength and your ability to sense light touch and a pinprick.

Treatment for spinal cord injuries includes:

Medications: Intravenous administration of methylprednisolone is an immediate treatment option for an acute spinal cord injury. This medication when given within eight hours of injury shows mild improvement in few people.
Immobilization: A special bed may help immobilize your body as traction. It is required to stabilize your spine and to maintain proper alignment.
Surgery: Surgery is performed to stabilize the spine to prevent future pain or deformity. It is also necessary to remove broken fragments of bones, adhered foreign objects, herniated disks that appear to compress the spine.

Some of the risk factors which may lead to spinal cord injuries include:

  • Gender: Males are more prone to spinal cord injuries as compared to females.
  • Age: If you are aged between 16 and 30, you are most likely to suffer a traumatic spinal cord injury. If you are aged more than 65, you may be more prone to injuries due to falls.
  • Engaging in risky behavior: Diving into the too-shallow water without checking the depth or playing sports without taking safety measures can lead to spinal cord injuries
  • Bone or joint disorders: Disorder that affects your bones or joints, such as arthritis or osteoporosis can also cause spinal cord injuries