Spinal injuries are painful, debilitating and incredibly common. Typically, any injury to the spinal cord itself or to the nerves at the terminus of the spinal canal may be referred to as spinal cord injuries. Such injuries may be responsible for permanent alterations in sensation and strength as well any body functions that occur below the injury site.
Recent victims of spinal cord injuries likely feel that their life will never be the same. Not only are their dire physical consequences but also there are emotional, mental and social losses.
However, doctors and other scientists are constantly working toward therapies that will hopefully help to repair spinal cord injuries. A variety of treatments already are available that may help people with these injuries lead more active and meaningful lives.
The Symptoms of Spinal Cord Injury
The symptoms of a spinal cord injury tend to vary depending upon where the injury occurred along the spinal cord and how severe the injury was. Doctors who are treating patients with these injuries may refer to the point on the spine at which function is normal as the injury’s neurological level. The severity of these injuries may be referred to as the “completeness” of the injury.
For example, the injury is considered incomplete if the patient maintains some sensory or motor function below the area of injury. By contrast, an injury is considered complete when all motor function and feeling are lost below the point of the spinal cord injury.
A series of tests is used to determine the completeness and neurological level of each spinal cord injury.
Some of the most common symptoms of such an injury include:
- The inability to move
- Alteration or loss of sensations such as cold, heat and touch
- Intense stinging or pain in the nerve fibers along the spinal cord
- Problems with coughing, breathing or clearing phlegm from the lungs
- Spasms or the exaggeration of reflexes
- Difficulties of bladder or bowel control
Additionally, the critical care team may examine or question the patient with regard to alterations in sexual function and fertility.
The Immediate Signs of a Spinal Cord Injury
Immediately after an accident, some signs may indicate that an injury has occurred to the spinal cord. These signs may include:
- Sensations of extreme pressure or pain in the head, neck or back
- Problems with walking and balance
- Neck or back in a strange or twisted position
- Weakness or even paralysis of any body part
- Difficulty breathing
- Loss of sensation or numbness in the extremities
If you believe that you have a spinal cord injury or if you are with someone who has suffered such an injury, then it is critical that the injured person not be moved. Unnecessary movement may make the injury worse and may cause permanent paralysis. Encourage the injured person to remain still, and assure them that emergency assistance is on the way.
Whenever someone experiences trauma to the head, neck or back, it makes sense to consult with a medical professional as soon as possible. In fact, it simply makes sense to assume that a person has a spinal cord injury until a doctor provides contrary information. This can help to mitigate the long-term effects of the injury that may be exacerbated by a delay in seeking treatment or unnecessary movement.
The Basics of Spinal Cord Injuries
When a spinal cord is injured, the damage may be to the disks, ligaments or vertebrae. Sometimes, the injury is to the spinal cord itself.
Frequently, spinal cord injuries are the result of a sudden and unexpected blow to the spine that compresses, crushes, dislocates or fractures one or several vertebrae. It is less common but no less traumatic for such injuries to be caused by a wound from a knife or bullet that penetrates the spinal cord.
The damage actually can become worse over time because of factors like inflammation, bleeding and the accumulation of fluid around the spinal cord.
Some spinal cord injuries are not the result of sudden, unexpected trauma. Degeneration of the disks over time, arthritis, cancer and numerous infections also may cause a spinal cord injury.
The Central Nervous System
When doctors refer to the central nervous system, they are talking about the combination of the spinal cord and the brain. The spinal cord consists of soft tissues that are surrounded by bones that are called the vertebrae. Extending downward from the base of the brain, the spinal cord includes many nerves and nerve cells.
The spinal cord terminates just above the waist in an area that doctors call the conus medullaris. Below this is the cauda equina, a critical group of nerve roots.
Groups of nerves called tracts run from the spinal cord to the various parts of the body, carrying messages from the brain. These messages help to control muscle movement. In turn, there are sensory tracts that carry messages from various body parts to the brain relating to sensations like temperature, limb position, pressure and pain.
How Are Nerve Fibers Affected?
Regardless of what caused the spinal cord injury, there will be damage to the nerve fibers that pass through the site of the injury. This damage may impair any corresponding nerves and muscles that are found below the site of the injury.
For example, an injury to the lower back, or lumbar, region or to the chest, or thoracic, region may affect the function and mobility of the torso and legs, including bowel control and sexual function. An injury to the neck, or cervical, region also will affect these areas in addition to the arms and the ability to breathe.
How Do Spinal Cord Injuries Happen?
A large proportion of spinal cord injuries in the U.S. are the result of car accidents. The second leading cause of this trauma is falls. In fact, a fall is most often responsible for a spinal cord injury beyond the age of 65.
Other causes of spinal cord injuries include violent acts like shootings or stabbings. Some people hurt their spinal cord while participating in sports or other athletic endeavors. Certain kinds of cancer and conditions like osteoporosis and arthritis are responsible for these injuries as well.
In many cases, alcohol is a factor in these incidents.
Who Is Most At Risk for Spinal Cord Injuries?
Research shows that some demographics are just more susceptible to spinal cord injuries. For instance, men are far more likely to suffer a traumatic spine injury than women are. Men are victims of these injuries approximately 80 percent of the time.
Traumatic spinal cord injuries are most common for people between the ages of 16 and 30, but those who are older than 65 also are at heightened risk.
People who tend to engage in risky behavior further are at greater risk for suffering a traumatic spinal cord injury. Doing things like diving into shallow water or playing contact sports without wearing the right protective equipment may lead to a serious and life-changing accident. The same can be said of getting behind the wheel after drinking or even driving sober but being reckless on the road.
Preventing Spinal Cord Injuries
Spinal cord injuries are not necessarily inevitable. People can protect themselves by not engaging in risky behavior. This means driving within the speed limit and avoiding aggressive driving. Similarly, athletes are encouraged to always use appropriate safety and protective equipment and follow all instructions for proper warm up and preparation.
Anyone who is going to be diving into any water would be wise to assess the depth before making the leap, and it is always sensible to check with a doctor whenever anything feels painful or off.
Ask Delaware Integrative Healthcare for Help
If you are recovering from a spinal cord injury, then Delaware Integrative Healthcare can help. This also is true for people who are suffering from back pain that may not be as severe as a spinal cord injury.
Whether you are experiencing chronic pain, loss of sensation, tingling or other symptoms, call Delaware Integrative Healthcare today. With our holistic focus on healing and wellness, chances are good that we can help you to feel better than you have in years.