Overview of an acute spinal cord injury
A spinal cord injury is damage to any part of the spinal cord or nerves at the end of the spinal canal (cauda equina) often causes permanent changes in strength, sensation and other body functions below the site of the injury. Many scientists are optimistic that advances in research will someday repair spinal cord injuries possible. Research studies are ongoing around the world. In the meantime, treatments and rehabilitation allow many people with spinal cord injuries to lead productive, independent lives.
Acute spinal cord injury causes
Spinal cord injuries may result from damage to the vertebrae, ligaments or disks of the spinal column or to the spinal cord itself.
A traumatic spinal cord injury may stem from a sudden, traumatic blow to your spine that fractures, dislocates, crushes or compresses one or more of your vertebrae. It may also result from a gunshot or knife wound that penetrates and cuts your spinal cord.
Additional damage usually occurs over days or weeks because of bleeding, swelling, inflammation and fluid accumulation in and around your spinal cord.
A nontraumatic spinal cord injury may be caused by arthritis, cancer, inflammation, infections or disk degeneration of the spine.
What are the symptoms of acute spinal cord injury?
The symptoms of acute spinal cord injury can vary widely. The location of the spinal cord injury determines which part of the body is affected and how severe the symptoms are.
As soon as a spinal cord injury occurs, your spine may be in shock. It is the loss or decrease of sensation, muscle movement, and reactions. When the swelling subsides, it is easier for your doctor to know the extent of the injury.
For example, a neck injury can affect the first and second vertebrae of the spine (C1, C2) or the middle cervical vertebrae (C3, C4, and C5), the respiratory muscles, and the ability to breathe. Low injury to the pelvic vertebrae, affecting nerve and muscle control and sexual function of the bladder, intestines, and legs.
- Quadriplegia is a loss of function in the arms and legs.
- Paraplegia means loss of function in the legs and lower body.
The extent of the spinal cord injury determines whether the injury is complete or incomplete.
- A complete injury means that there is no movement or sensation below the level of the injury.
- An incomplete injury means that there is still some sensation or movement beyond the level of the injury.
Common symptoms of an acute spinal cord injury are:
- Muscular weakness
- Loss of muscle movement in the chest, arms.
- Respiratory problems
- Loss of bowel and bladder function.
The symptoms of SCI appear to be similar to those of other conditions or health problems.
How is severe SCIs diagnosed?
Acute spinal cord injury is a medical emergency. Emergency evaluation is required whenever there is a suspicious injury to the spine.
The effects of SCI may not be obvious at first. Full health evaluation and testing are required. During the test, the doctor will ask about your medical history and how the injury occurred. Spinal cord injury can cause nerve problems that require further medical adaptation. Sometimes surgery is needed to stabilize the spinal cord.
Diagnostic tests can include:
- Blood test
- The bone scan test uses invisible beams of electromagnetic energy to produce images of internal bones, and organs on film.
- Computed tomography. An imaging test that uses x-rays and computer technology to create detailed images of the body. A CT scan shows pictures of any part of the body, including bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than regular X-rays.
- MRI test uses large magnets, radio frequencies, and a computer to create detailed images of organs.
Treatment for acute spinal cord injury
Unfortunately, there’s no way to reverse damage to the spinal cord. But researchers are continually working on new treatments, including prostheses and medications that may promote nerve cell regeneration or improve the function of the nerves that remain after a spinal cord injury.
In the meantime, spinal cord injury treatment focuses on preventing further injury and empowering people with a spinal cord injury to return to an active and productive life.
Urgent medical attention is critical to minimize the effects of any head or neck trauma. Therefore, treatment for a spinal cord injury often begins at the scene of the accident.
Emergency personnel typically immobilize the spine as gently and quickly as possible using a rigid neck collar and a rigid carrying board, which they’ll use to transport you to the hospital.
Prevention of acute spinal cord injury
There is definitely no way to prevent acute spinal cord injury, but there are several steps you can take to reduce your risk. In addition to:
- Do not drive under the influence of alcohol.
- You should wear a seat belt when in the vehicle.
- Be careful not to fall around your house.
- Wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle or participating in any sport or activity that could result in a head injury. These include biking, skiing, hockey, and soccer.
Living with severe acute spinal cord injury
Physical therapy will be a very important part of your rehabilitation. In this treatment, experts work with you to help you retrain other muscles to prevent muscle wasting and contractions (contractions) and to help with mobility and movement. Another type of treatment is occupational therapy. It can help you learn new ways to do daily tasks despite your new physical limitations.
The traumatic event that led to your spinal cord injury is devastating for you and your family. The healthcare team will help educate your family members on how to help with your care at home after your hospitalization and rehabilitation. They can help you immediately understand the specific problems that require medical help.
You will need frequent medical evaluations and tests after your hospitalization and rehabilitation to monitor your progress.
It is important to focus on maximizing your skills at home and in the community.