spinal cord injury

According to the World Health Organisation, every year, about 250,000 and 500,000 people suffer from the spinal cord injury(SCI). Usually, the spinal cord injury is a result of preventable causes, such as road traffic, crashes, falls, or violence.


Additionally, people with spinal cord injury have two to five times the chance of dying premature death as compared to people without the spinal cord injury. The term spinal cord injury refers to the damaging of the spinal cord because of trauma, disease or degeneration. In fact, almost 90% of the cases occur due to traumatic causes.


Any damage anywhere in the spinal cord or nerves at the end of the spinal canal wil permanently affect your strength, sensation, and other body functions. An injury in the spinal cord will affect every aspect of your life, and you may feel the injury mentally, emotionally, and socially.

What Causes Spinal Cord Injury?


Any damage to the vertebra, ligament or disks of the spinal cord or spinal column will result in spinal cord injury. The cause of spinal cord injury is traumatic or nontraumatic, and the damaged caused will affect the nerve fibres that pass through the injured area. In the U.S the most common spinal cord injury causes are:-


  • Motor vehicle accident: Accidents caused by the auto and motorcycle are the major leading cause of the spinal cord injury. This single cause contributes to almost half of the spinal cord injury cases every year.


  • Injury by falling: Almost 31% of spinal cord injury cases occur because of falling. But this often happens in people of age 65 years and more.


  • Act of violence: In the list of the most common causes of spinal cord injury, injuries caused during violent encounters, especially through gunshot wound and knives contributes 13% to the spinal cord injury cases.


  • Sports and recreation injuries: 10% of the spinal cord injuries are caused during sports activity, such as diving in shallow water, weight lifting, or fighting sports.


  • Diseases: Some medical complications may also cause inflammation of spinal cord injury, such as cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis.


  • Alcohol consumption: It has been observed that 1 in every 4 cases of spinal cord injury use of alcohol is a factor.


Usually, a spinal cord injury is caused by an accident and can happen to anyone, but some factors may help you fall under the high risk of sustaining a spinal cord injury, such as:-


  • Male factor: Spinal cord injury majorly affects males. It has been observed that females only contribute 20% of the spinal cord injury cases in the United States.


  • People of age of 16 and 30: People with age between 16 o 30 years are at higher risk of suffering from traumatic spinal cord injury. The average age at the time of injury was observed to be 43 years.


  • People with risky behaviour: People who involve themselves in activities, such as diving into too shallow water, playing sports without wearing safety equipment, or heavy weight lifting are at higher risk of developing spinal cord injury. Motor vehicle crash is also a leading cause of spinal cord injury in people below 65 years.

What Can Happen To Someone With A Spinal Cord Injury?


The symptoms of spinal cord injury depend on two factors, such as the severity of the injury and the location of the injury in the spinal cord. The severity of the spinal cord injury is often classified further as complete and incomplete injury:-


Complete injury: If all your feeling(sensory nerves) and your ability to control your movement(motor function) are not working completly below the area of injury in the spinal cord, it is called complete injury.


Incomplete injury: In case your sensory nerves and motor functions are working in any way, it is called an incomplete injury. This incomplete injury is further divided into various degrees.


In some cases, paralysis may occur because of a spinal cord injury which is further referred to as:-


Tetraplegia: In such paralysis, your arms, hands, trunk, legs and pelvic organs get affected because of spinal cord injury. It is also known as quadriplegia.


Paraplegia: Such type of paralysis affects all or some parts of the trunk, legs and pelvic organs.


In general, any spinal cord injury will affect you in the following manner:-


  • Loss of movement
  • You may lose your sense, such as feeling heat, cold or touch
  • Loss of bladder control or bowel movement
  • You may experience exaggerated reflex activities or spasms
  • The injury may alter your sexual function, sensitivity, and fertility
  • A sensation of pain or an intense stinging sensation caused by damage to the nerve fibres in your spinal cord
  • Difficulty while breathing, coughing or clearing secretions from the lungs


These were the general signs and symptoms of being injured in the spinal cord but in some of the cases, the injury leads to emergency signs and symptoms, such as:-


  • Unbearable pain in the back or pressure in your neck or head.
  • Weakness, lack of coordination or paralysis in some parts of the body
  • Numbness, tingling or loss of sensation in your hands, fingers, feet or toes
  • Loss of bladder control or bowel movement
  • Facing difficulty in walking and balancing
  • You may experience impaired breathing after injury
  • The injury might result in an oddly positioned or twisted neck or back

How Is A Spinal Cord Injury Diagnosed?


The diagnoses of spinal cord injury involve the inspection and examination of sensory nerves and movement. But in some cases, if the patient complaints about any pain in the neck or any sign of weakness the doctor might recommend you for emergency tests, such as:-


  • X-rays: People who are suspected of having such injury after trauma are usually advised to undergo X-ray as it reveals vertebral issues, tumour, fractures or any other degenerative altercation in the spin.


  • Computerized tomography(CT) scan: This test helps the doctor get a cross-sectional image of the spinal cord that can easily define bones, disks, and other complications.


  • Magnetic resonance imaging(MRI): It involves a strong magnetic field and radio waves to produce a better-computerized image. This helps in getting at the spinal cord and identifying herniated disks, blood clots or other masses that might create complications.

What Is The Best Treatment For Spinal Cord Injury?


Regrettably, the damage caused as a result of the spinal cord injury cannot be reversed. But researchers are continuously working on it, including prostheses and medications that might help the damaged nerve cells to regenerate or improve the function of the affected nerves.


Meanwhile, the spinal cord injury treatment mainly focuses on preventing any further injury and empowering people with a spinal cord injury to help them to return back to their healthy life. In the emergency cases, the early stages of treatment involve:-


  • Maintaining the ability to breathe
  • Preventing shock
  • √ćmmobilizing the neck in order to prevent further damage
  • Prevent possible complications, such as urine or stool retention, respiratory or cardiovascular difficulty, and formation of deep vein blood clots in the extremities


Usually, the cases of spinal cord injury are admitted to the intensive care unit for the treatment or may be transferred to the regional spine injury centre where a team of neurosurgeons, orthopaedic surgeons, spinal cord medicine specialist, psychologists and other medical staffs are available to look after the patients. 


Despite such arrangements, the treatment for spinal cord injury is still not specified. You can now imagine how critical it is to deal with an injury in the spine. In general, here are some ways of dealing with such injuries, such as:-


  • Medications: The use of medications keeps on changing as the researchers are heading towards more precise treatment. Earlier, Intravenous(IV) methylprednisolone (SoluMedrol) was used, but it had some side effects, such as blood clot and pneumonia. Thus, this medicine was not further implemented for such treatment.


  • Immobilization: Usually, stability places a vital role in the treatment of spinal cord injury and thus, you might require traction to stabilize your spine. Like in some cases, a rigid neck collar might work, or in some more severe cases, a special bed helps in immobilizing the body.


  • Surgery: In some cases, surgery is necessary in order to remove foreign objects, herniated disks or fractured vertebrae that compress the spinal cord. Surgery may also be required in order to stabilize the spine and to prevent further damage or pain.