How Spinal Cord Injuries Can Affect You

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Spinal Cord Injury
Spinal cord injuries can be devastating and life-changing. Find out what they are, how they are caused, what the treatment is, and how to minimise your chances of developing them.

How does the spinal cord work?

The spinal cord is a long, tube-like structure that forms part of the central nervous system. It houses the major bundle of nerves that communicate between the brain and the rest of the body. It transmits various signals to different tissues and organs, thereby helping in movement and proper functioning.

What is a spinal cord injury (SCI)?

A spinal cord injury refers to an injury that may occur to any part of the spinal cord. It can lead to the loss of normal functions such as mobility, sensation, or strength.

Roughly 15,000 new cases are reported in India every year, out of which 60-70% are from the rural population.

How are spinal cord injuries classified?

Based on the extent of damage, these injuries can be:

  • Incomplete: In this, the spinal cord is partially damaged, so some degree of movement is still possible below the level of the injury
  • Complete spinal injuries: In this, the spinal cord is completely damaged, making voluntary movement impossible below the level of the injury
Spinal Cord Injury

What are the causes of spinal cord injuries?

They may be caused by trauma or other causes such as infections, tumours, etc.
Some traumatic causes include:

  • Road traffic accidents
  • Falls
  • Gunshot or stab injuries
  • Sports injuries

Surgical/medical complications Non-traumatic causes include:

  • Spinal tumours
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Arthritis

Who’s at risk of developing a spinal cord injury?

You may be more likely to develop a spinal cord injury if you are:

  • A male
  • Aged between 16 to 30 years
  • An elderly person with a high risk of falls
  • Involved in high-impact sports, diving, etc.
  • Suffering from arthritis, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, or having a tumour in your spinal cord

What are the symptoms of a spinal cord injury?

Some commonly reported symptoms include:

  • Severe back pain
  • Immense pressure on the spine, neck, head, or back
  • Loss of strength or muscle power
  • Inability to move or paralysis in your arms, legs, or both
  • Loss of bowel and bladder control
  • Difficulty in walking, balancing, or an coordination
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tingling, numbness, or altered sensation in your hands or feet

What are some complications of spinal cord injuries?

These injuries can:

  • Lead to chronic pain
  • Severely limit your mobility and alter your normal day-to-day functioning
  • Cause paralysis (paraplegia or quadriplegia)
  • Permanently affect your bladder and bowel function
  • Cause difficulty breathing and lead to respiratory tract infections, pneumonia, etc.
  • Lead to muscle flaccidity or spasticity
  • Cause bed sores and other skin infections
  • Cause depression

How is a spinal cord injury diagnosed?

Your doctor will review your medical history in detail, so make sure you inform them about any injuries, accidents, or trauma you have suffered, any medical conditions you have, and any surgeries you have undergone in the past. They will then perform a physical examination and do a thorough assessment of your movement and sensory function. They may recommend you to get the following scans:

  • X-rays to look for fractures, osteoarthritis, and other degenerative changes
  • CT scan to get a better view of any kind of changes, fractures, tumours, and deformities
  • MRI, to detect tumours, disc herniation, etc.

What is the most important thing to do after a back or neck injury?

If someone you know has suffered a back or neck injury,

  • Call an ambulance
  • Do not move or alter their position until professional help arrives
  • Make them comfortable and provide basic first aid
  • Place heavy towels around their neck or hold their head to prevent them from moving

How is a spinal cord injury treated?

Your doctors will provide standard care in order to relieve pain and any other symptoms that you may be experiencing. Depending on the cause of the injury, surgery can also be an option.

What can I do to prevent spinal cord injuries?

To minimise your risk, you should:

  • Drive safely, always wear your seatbelt or helmet, and do not indulge in drunk driving
  • Wear protective equipment such as helmets, eyewear, and guards while taking part in sports
  • Take the necessary precautions to protect yourself from falls

Is a spinal cord injury permanent?

Currently, there is no cure for this condition. However, medications, mobilisation exercises, and surgery can prevent further damage and improve functioning and quality of life.

How can I regain my independence if I have a spinal cord injury?

To improve your independence and quality of life, you can take the aid of:

  • Modern wheelchairs: Lightweight and improved wheelchairs make them more comfortable and mobile for patients
  • Computer-assisted technologies or electronic aids: These can help patients in performing activities independently
  • Adaptive techniques: Learning adaptive techniques can help in accomplishing day-to-day tasks

What kind of follow-up is required after a spinal cord injury?

You will require regular follow-ups, which include:

  • Yearly urological assessment to ensure proper functioning of the kidneys and bladder
  • Self-evaluation of skin on a daily basis for any sores or skin problems
  • Periodic chest examination to detect any kind of upper respiratory infection or pneumonia

Reference:

  1. Singh G, Prakash R, Bhatti VK, Mahen A. Spinal cord injury in organizational setup – A hospital-based descriptive study. J Mar Med Soc 2019;21:46-50
Dr. Aditi
WRITTEN BY

Dr. Aditi

An MBBS and a medical reviewer with a penchant for healthcare articles and blogs. Read her contributions and writings about various healthcare topics.

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