A spinal cord injury is defined as damage to the spinal cord, which is a severe kind of physical trauma with long-term and significant consequences for daily life.
The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves and other tissues enclosed by the vertebrae in the spine. The spine is made up of stacked bones that go from the base of the brain down to the lower back and end near the buttocks.
The spinal cord plays a vital role in transmitting messages from the brain to all parts of the body and transmitting messages from the body to the brain. These signals traveling via the spinal cord are responsible for sensation and limb movement.
Some or all of these signals may be interrupted when the spinal cord is injured. This can result in a complete or partial loss of sensation and mobility below the site of the injury. Injuries closer to the neck tend to cause paralysis, affecting a larger portion of the body than those in the lower back region.
Spinal cord injuries are relatively uncommon and often result from sudden trauma, violent incidents, or accidents. Here are several causes of spinal cord injury that can lead to damage:
Spinal cord injuries are typically categorized into two major types:
The symptoms depend on the type and location of the injury. These include:
The severity of the injury determines the type of treatment. Doctors first focus on stabilizing breathing and immobilizing the neck to prevent further injury. Following this, the patient may be admitted to a trauma center that specializes in spinal cord injuries. Specialized care may include:
The use of traction, braces, harnesses, and collars to stabilize the spine and prevent movement.
Corticosteroid drugs may be administered to reduce swelling and inflammation.
Physical and occupational therapy improves muscular strength and helps learn skills or strategies for regaining independence. Therapy may begin while the patient is in the hospital and continue once they move to a rehabilitation center or outpatient facility.
In certain instances, surgery may be necessary to remove bone fragments or fractured vertebrae.
1. Can you recover from a damaged spinal cord?
A. While it is currently not possible to reverse spinal cord damage, researchers are working on finding new treatments. These advancements include the development of prostheses and medications designed to stimulate nerve cell regeneration or improve the function of nerves after a spinal cord injury.
2. Can you walk with a damaged spinal cord?
A. Yes, you can walk after a spinal cord injury. This is because the spinal cord can rearrange and adapt via a process known as neuroplasticity. With the guidance of experienced medical professionals, individuals can work towards maximizing neuroplasticity and potentially regain mobility.
Around 80% of individuals with an incomplete spinal cord injury can regain the ability to walk after taking part in a rehabilitation program. However, many may still require a walking aid because their walking ability might not be fully functional.
3. Is spinal cord injury painful?
A. People with spinal cord injuries may have persistent pain in the form of nerve pain, discomfort from overusing certain body parts, painful muscle spasms, and internal organ pain.
4. How long does it take to walk after a spinal cord injury?
A. Since every spinal cord injury and the way people recover from it are different, the speed and extent of recovery can vary from one person to another. It's commonly believed that the most significant improvement in physical function typically happens during the initial six months after the injury. This is because the spinal cord tends to be more adaptable and responsive to rehabilitation during that early period.