Symptoms of a spinal injury
When someone has an acute spinal cord injury, they can have any number of different symptoms. One thing that determines how it will manifest is where on the spinal column the injury is located, as different parts of the spine have nerves going to different areas of the body. Injuries to the spine can result in swelling, decreased or loss of feeling, and movement and reflexes can be affected. When the swelling goes down, other symptoms may begin to manifest or show up.
Generally speaking, the further up the spine the injury is, the more severe the symptoms will be. Injuries to the cervical vertebrae (the neck) can be catastrophic because they can affect whether the victim is able to breathe on their own. An injury to the lower back can have an affect on urine or bowel elimination, and affect the nerves going to the legs.
A severe neck injury can cause a person to become a quadriplegic if the nerves are too badly damaged, causing loss of ability to move anything in the body below the injury. The same severity of injury in the lower back causes loss of movement but only to the lower of half of the body, resulting in paraplegia.
There are two levels of severity to this type of injury, and they are determined by how much damage was done.
- A complete injury indicates that the nerves are completely damaged so that there is no feeling in the resulting area.
- An incomplete injury means that there is nerve damage but enough feeling gets through so that the person has some feeling to the area and limited amount of movement.
Symptoms most commonly seen in acute spinal cord injuries are:Weakness of the muscles
- Inability to voluntarily move the arms, legs, or chest muscles
- Problems with breathing
- No feeling in the body below the injury
- No control over the bladder or bowels
Treatment for an acute spinal cord injury
Whenever it is suspected that the victim of an accident has received an injury to the spinal column, medical attention should be administered as quickly as possible at the scene. The head and neck should be kept from moving and immobilized with whatever means possible to prevent further damage to the spine.
Treatment for an injury to the spinal cord is determined by several different factors.
- Age of the person, their health, and prior medical history
- How extensive the injury is
- Level of response to initial treatment
- Decisions of the patient on their treatment
Researchers have been actively looking for ways to help those who have sustained permanent damage to the spinal cord be able to regain some ability to walk or use their limbs. But there is still no known way for the spinal cord to regenerate itself after being damaged or bruised.
Depending on the extent of the overall injuries, surgery may be required to repair fractured vertebrae or other bones, and stabilize the area. Recovery generally is long-term, as these types of injuries can be slow to heal. Rehabilitation is usually necessary to regain as much use of the body as possible, and to be able to resume living outside of a facility.
Ways to lower the risk of an injury to the spine
We know how to prevent the most common types of accidents, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of these basic safety practices, which can help reduce the risk of a possible spinal injury.
- Drive sober, and don’t get behind the wheel of a car when you have been drinking or doing drugs.
- Be sure to put your seat belt on, even if you are only a passenger.
- Be careful in areas where you could fall, including your own home.
- If you have a gun in your house, be sure it is locked where it cannot be accessed by anyone else.
- When engaged in activities where a head injury is possible, wear a helmet at all times, including riding a motorcycle or a bicycle.