The spinal cord is that part of the body that transmits messages to and from the brain to other organs. Therefore, any injury to this part has a lasting and significant impact on many aspects of our daily life. It can result in partial or total loss of sensation and movement. Depending on the location and severity, a spinal cord injury near the neck may cause temporary or permanent paralysis throughout the body. However, patients can recover after therapy and cord injury rehabilitation. This article will explain everything you need to know about spinal cord injury.
Table of Contents
What is a spinal cord injury?
A spinal cord is the collection of nerves and other tissues that help the body perform various functions. The spinal cord injury is mild or severe damage to the spinal cord that affects multiple body parts resulting in morbidity and permanent disability. It is devastating and demoralizing both for the patients and the healthcare professionals. However, a better understanding of the pathophysiology and rehabilitation can help overcome this life-changing neurological condition. Usually, spinal cord injuries are the result of violent and unpredictable incidents. Patients suffering from long-term spinal cord injuries feel a complete transformation in their social and emotional life.
What are the common types of spinal cord injury?
Depending on the severity of the injury, there are two main spinal cord injury types, complete and incomplete or partial.
A severe and complete spinal cord injury may cause total paralysis. Quadriplegia is the dysfunctioning of all four limbs that is due to an intense and painful incident. However, malfunctioning of the lower limbs is paraplegia that affects both sides of the body.
If the injury is mild or incomplete, some functions remain on one or both sides of the body. It means that a bit of communication exists between the brain and the body along specific pathways.
Many other less common spinal cord injuries affecting specific parts of the spinal cord are:
- Anterior cord syndrome also called ventral cord syndrome (lack of blood or oxygen flow to the two thirds but not the back of the spinal cord resulting in the loss of motor, pain, and temperature sensations)
- Central cord syndrome (often caused by overstretching of the neck that results in malfunctioning of the arms)
- Posterior cord syndrome (caused by trauma, tumors, multiple sclerosis, and compression of any length of the spinal cord that results in the loss of light touch, vibration, and positions senses)
- Brown-sequard syndrome (usually caused by a tumor, injury ischemia, infection, puncture, or multiple sclerosis resulting in loss of motor function on one side and loss of sensation on the other side of the body)
- Cauda equine (caused by an injury to the nerve root resulting in legs weakness, bowel incontinence, urinary retention, sexual dysfunctioning)
- Conus medullaris (injury or disease affecting the core of nerves inside the nerve root that causes dysfunctioning of the leg, bowel bladder, and sexual abilities)
- Cord concussion (resulting from a bump to the spinal cord that causes message disruption from and to the brain for 24-48 hours with a possible return of the function)
- Tethered cord (is the attachment of the spinal cord to the tissues around it detected in early childhood or later that requires surgery for relief of pain)
- Spina bifida and neural tube diseases (occurs during fetal development where the spinal cord does not form in the enclosed space of the vertebrae requiring surgery before or after birth)
What are the causes and symptoms of spinal cord injury?
Usually, spinal cord injuries occur due to injuries that damage vertebrae, ligament, or the spinal cord itself. A traumatic injury results from a sudden blow to the spine that causes fractures and dislocates, crushes, or compresses one or more vertebrae (discs). Gunshot or knife wound that penetrates causes this kind of injury. Sometimes, bleeding, swelling, inflammation, and fluid accumulation around the wound cause further damage to the spinal cord and its functioning. Arthritis, cancer, inflammation, infections, or disc regenerations are the causes of nontraumatic spinal cord injuries.
Damages to the brain and central nervous system
The central nervous system consists of the brain and the spinal cord. The spinal cord is a collection of nerves and soft tissues that perform motor functions. It is the pathway that controls the signals to and from the brain to other body parts. Therefore, any injury to the central nervous system may cause dysfunction of any part of the body.
Damage to the nerve fiber
Medical research says that any traumatic or nontraumatic damage to the spinal cord affects the nerve fibers running through the injured area. It may result in partial or complete dysfunctioning of the muscles connected with those nerve fibers. Thoracic (chest) and lumbar (lower back) injuries usually affect the legs, bowel, bladder, torso, and sexual performance of the body. In comparison, a neck injury (cervical) may cause dysfunction of the arms and breathing system. The most common causes of spinal cord injuries around the world are
Motor vehicle accidents
Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries. Figures show that more than half of the central nervous system and spinal cord injuries occur due to violent auto and motorcycle accidents on the roads.
The injuries due to falls are common in the population above the age of 65. About 31% of spinal cord injuries occur due to falls.
Acts of Violence
Various acts of violence also cause spinal cord injuries in people. Acts of violence include gunshot or knife attacks that damage the vertebrae causing incomplete or complete paralysis. About 13% of people suffer from spinal cord injuries due to their direct or indirect involvement in violent acts.
Sports and recreation injuries
These injuries usually occur in players during the performance of various athletic activities. About 10% of spinal cord injuries exist on this planet due to injuries during sports and recreation activities. Cricket, hockey, football, and many water sports cause spinal cord injuries.
Many patients suffer from spinal cord injuries due to cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis, and inflammation around the spinal cord. One out of every four persons suffers from the brain and spinal cord injury due to alcohol drinking.
Symptoms of the spinal cord injury may include
- Loss of control of the bowels or bladder
- Difficulty or inability to move your legs or hands
- Issues in walking
- Pain, pressure, and stiffness around the neck area or back
- Unnatural positioning of the head or imbalance
- Numbness in extremities
How is spinal cord injury diagnosed?
The first step in diagnosing spinal cord injury is the healthcare professional’s examination that ensures breathing and proper functioning of the airways. The doctors also observe the neurologic functioning of the patient through sensations in the legs or arms. The next step is imaging, and the doctors recommend keeping the patient in a rigid cervical collar and on a spine board.
The advancement in the medical field has introduced modern diagnosing machines like CT scans and MRI. A CT scan helps identify the fractures, while MRI helps spot the spinal cord itself and detects blood clots, herniated discs, or any other mass in or around the injured area.
When to contact a healthcare provider about spinal cord injury?
A patient may need immediate medical attention if he is experiencing any of the following conditions after trauma.
- Severe pain or pressure in the neck or on the back
- Impaired breathing
- Unusual lumps on the head or spine
- Partial or complete loss of control on any part of the body
- Incontinence or retention in bowel or urine
- Loss of sensation in hands, legs, fingers, and feet
- Abnormal sensations in the thorax
Spinal cord injury treatment
Depending on the nature and severity of the spinal cord injury, surgical and nonsurgical treatments are common. However, doctors recommend patients’ admission to ICU in both cases. Nonsurgical therapies include the proper alignment of the spine, maintaining stable blood pressure, monitoring cardiovascular functioning, immediate treatment of infections, and ensuring adequate ventilation and monitoring the patients’ breathing system.
However, if the spinal cord seems compressed or there is a blood clot, the doctor may recommend taking the patient to the operation theater for surgery.
What is the role of rehabilitation for patients with spinal cord injury?
Rehabilitation is necessary for spinal cord injury patients to help them out or teach them to perform daily activities in new ways. Only this way patients can gain independence over time. In the beginning, rehabilitation under acute care is necessary. However, you can take patients to any rehabilitation facility on social workers’ and healthcare professionals’ recommendations.
The information given in the entire article may prove helpful for the spinal cord injury patients and their families to help them get out of the trouble. But, always consult a doctor in specific emergency conditions and select the rehabilitation facility on their recommendations.
CMRC Hospital is the specialized provider for Long-term Care and rehabilitation services in the United Arab Emirates. With 2 main facilities in Abu Dhabi & Al Ain, which are designed in a rehabilitation and long-term care hospital with a capacity of 90 beds each.
CMRC provides an interdisciplinary clinical approach for Spinal Cord Injuries which is customized for adults, adolescents, and children. The best rehabilitation services are not only our goal but our ultimate objective is to customize the care plan for each patient and make sure that the patient’s family and their members are integrated into the treatment plan.
Either you joined Abu Dhabi hospital or Al Ain hospital for any kind of our rehabilitation services or even for long-term care you will feel as if you are at #Your Second Home.