How does the spinal cord work?
What is a spinal cord injury (SCI)?
Spinal cord injury refers to an injury that may occur to any part of the spinal cord. It can lead to loss of normal function 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
What are the causes of spinal cord injuries?
They may be caused due to trauma or other causes such as infections, tumours etc.
Some traumatic causes include –
- Road traffic accidents
- Gunshot or stab injuries
- Sports injuries
Surgical/medical complicationsNon-traumatic causes include –
- Spinal tumours
- Multiple sclerosis
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 have a tumour in your spinal cord
What are the symptoms of 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 coordination
- Sexual dysfunction
- Difficulty in 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 in 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 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?
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 necessary precautions to protect yourself from falls
Is a spinal cord injury permanent?
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 it 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 infections or pneumonia
- 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