Spinal cord injury is a medical condition where there is damage to the nerves at the end of the spinal canal, resulting in permanent changes in strength and other bodily functions below the site of the injury.
The spinal cord is the main collection of nerves that carry impulses from the brain throughout the body. These nerves are surrounded by a ring of bone called vertebrae.
Spinal cord injury is the result of direct trauma to the nerves as well as a result of damage to the bones and soft tissues in the blood vessels around the spinal cord. This injury will cause loss of spinal cord function, which can lead to loss of mobility.
In most cases, people with spinal cord injuries do not have complete damage to the spinal cord, but only a bruise or tear in the nerve.
Although the symptoms occur on the back, spinal cord injuries are different from back injuries. Back injuries are usually caused by a pinched nerve, while spinal cord injury is caused by a bruised nerve.
Causes of Spinal Cord Injury
Spinal cord injury may result from spine damage (to spinal disks called ligaments), or damage to the spinal cord.
Traumatic injuries may also be caused by a sudden blow or pressure to the spine. This results in fractures or detachment of the spinal structures. This may be due to a fall or a gunshot or knife wound that pierces through and cuts the spinal cord.
Spinal cord injuries can also be caused by motorcycle accidents, industrial accidents, physical attacks, and more.
Several types of diseases may also trigger someone to experience complications of spinal cord injury. Diseases such as polio or disorders that involve brain development will lead to this condition.
If the patient has other medical conditions such as arthritis, the spine will weaken. When that happens, the spine is more prone to nerve trauma, even with minor injuries.
When to See a Doctor for Spinal Cord Injury?
Patients who experience symptoms of spinal cord injury should see a neurologist. They will be taken to the emergency room where doctors will diagnose symptoms by testing sensory function and movement, and by asking questions regarding the accident.
However, if the patient has a neck pain complaint, is not fully conscious, and has obvious signs of nerve injury, the doctor may order for emergency diagnostic tests.
The tests may include:
- X-Ray. A form of imaging test usually performed on patients who are suspected of having a spinal cord injury after trauma. The x-ray results can reveal conditions in the spinal cord, including tumors or degenerative changes in the spine.
- CT Scan. An imaging test done to show abnormalities in the spine in detail.
- MRI. An imaging test that uses a strong magnetic field as well as radio waves. This examination is very effective in identifying herniated disks or conditions where a disc is tucked between the spinal cords. In addition, MRI can also show if blood clots are pressing on the spinal cord.
Symptoms of Spinal Cord Injury
Based on the severity, there are two types of symptoms of spinal cord injury:
- Complete symptom, which refers to a complete loss of sensory and motor skills.
- Incomplete symptoms, occur when only part of the sensory and motor skills, usually in the lower part of the injured area, are impaired.
In addition, paralysis due to spinal cord injury can be referred to as:
- Tetraplegia, paralysis affecting the arms, hands, body, legs and organs around the pelvis due to spinal cord injury.
- Paraplegia, paralysis affecting the lower half of the body, the trunk of the legs and pelvic organs.
Common symptoms for spinal cord injuries include:
- Changes in sexual function.
- Discharge from the lungs.
- Losing the ability to move.
- Difficulty breathing and coughing.
- Excessive reflex or seizure activity.
- Loss of bowel and bladder control.
- Intense stinging pain in the spinal cord.
- Loss of the ability to feel heat, cold, or touch.
Treatment for Spinal Cord Injury
Unfortunately, there is no way to restore the condition of the spinal cord after damage occurs. For now, treatment of spinal cord injuries is still focused on preventing further injuries and helping patients to return to an active and productive life.
After an accident, emergency personnel usually attach a collar-like device to the neck and use a rigid board to carry the patient to the hospital. In the emergency room, doctors will focus on:
- Preventing shock.
- Maintaining the patient’s ability to breathe
- Immobilizing your neck to prevent further spinal cord damage
- Avoiding possible complications, which refers to potential new diseases. Complications may include respiratory difficulty, formation of deep vein blood clots, or urine retention
Patients with spinal cord injuries will be admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). This condition will not only be treated by a neurologist, but also neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, and spinal cord injury specialists.
The most common treatment procedures include:
- Surgical removal of bone fragments, foreign bodies, or spinal fractures. Surgery can also reduce pain that may arise for the patient in the future.
- Medications. Examples are intravenous (IV) and. methylprednisolone (Solu-Medrol). However, these medicines have potential side effects like blood clots and pneumonia.
- Immobilizing. Helps eliminate the ability to bring the spine into proper alignment or both. This method is performed with the attachment of a rigid neck collar or the use of a special bed.
Treatment Cost for Spinal Cord Injury
The cost for spinal cord injury treatment varies, depending on the symptoms, the severity, and the treatment method chosen.
For more information regarding the estimated costs of spinal cord injury treatment, contact Smarter Health.
Prevention of Spinal Cord Injury
Spinal cord injuries generally occur as a result of an accident. Prevention can be achieved by:
- Driving carefully. Traffic accidents are the most common cause of spinal cord injury.
- Taking precautions when exercising. You should always wear the recommended safety equipment.
- Finding out the depth level when diving. Make sure not to dive into shallow water as this could result in a physical accident.
Home Remedies for Patients Diagnosed with Spinal Cord Injury
Patients with spinal cord injury may be taken care of at home. The spine should always be monitored. It is advised to not engage in too much movement involving the spine, as well as to wear a rigid neck collar given by the doctor.
For patients who have undergone surgery, take the medicine recommended by the doctor. It is also recommended to avoid intense physical activity such as exercise, especially during the recovery period.