The spine affects a surprising number of bodily functions. Because it houses many of the body’s most vital nerves, a spinal injury can affect virtually every part of your body below the damaged area.
The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that carries messages from the brain to other parts of the body. It is housed within the spinal cavity, protected by bones and tissue. Damage to the nerves in the spinal cord can affect your strength, the ability to feel in certain parts of your body, and even alter bodily functions. In severe cases, it can cause complete or partial paralysis.
What is a Spinal Cord Injury?
A spinal cord injury includes damage to any part of the spinal cord or the nerves at the edge or end of the spinal canal. It can also be caused by damage to the surrounding tissues, bones, or vessels. Damage to these surrounding items can put pressure on the nerves, causing both pain and loss of sensation or mobility. Usually, if the damage occurs high on spine or into the neck, it will affect more parts of your body.
If you suffer from a spinal cord injury, your spine is usually still intact. A spinal injury is not the same as a general back injury, which usually includes broken or fractured bones. Instead, a spinal cord injury affects the cord itself, not necessarily the surrounding vertebrae. However, a fractured vertebrae or dislocated vertebrae can cause spinal cord damage.
Types of Spinal Cord Injuries
If the damage is “complete,” then the spinal cord will not function below the area of the damage. This results in paralysis below the affected area. If the injury is incomplete, then you will still have some loss of sensation below the injury. It may limit your mobility, but it will not cause complete paralysis.
If paralysis occurs, there are two general types. The first is known as tetraplegia. This occurs when you can no longer move your arms, hands, trunk, or legs. It also affects the pelvic organs. The other type is paraplegia. This type includes all or part of the trunk, legs, and pelvic organs. If paraplegia occurs, you still have movement in your arms and hands.
Signs of a Spinal Cord Injury
Some spinal cord injuries are easy to diagnose because they are extremely serious and the effects noticeable. Others are more difficult because the loss of sensation or movement may not be noticeable right away. In fact, it could take several days or weeks to notice any changes.
If you have been involved in an accident that affects your spine, a medical professional will perform a series of tests to determine the significance of your injury. A CT scan will provide cross-sectional images of the bones and disks to diagnose any problems. An x-ray may also be conducted for the same purpose, but a CT scan is often more effective.
Medical professionals may also want to perform an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). An MRI can also let the team look at blood clotting, masses, scar tissue, or damaged disks that may be putting pressure on the spinal cord.
They will look for several of the following signs or symptoms:
- Loss of movement or sensation anywhere in the body
- Inability to feel heat, cold, or touching
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Spasms or exaggerated reflexes
- Changes in sexual function or fertility
- Pain related to damage of the nerve fibers
- Difficulty breathing or coughing
- Difficulty with balance or walking
- Weakness or lack of coordination
Common Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries
Usually spinal cord injuries are the result of a sudden blow. For example, the following accidents are common causes of spinal cord injuries:
- Car accidents
- Work injuries
- Sudden falls
- Sports injuries
Broken pieces of the vertebrae can press on the nerve parts or tear the spinal cord tissue, causing severe damage.
Treatment for Spinal Cord Injuries
Spinal cord injuries can be very serious. If you suspect that your spine or spinal cord have been injured at all, you should seek immediate medical attention. Getting attention quickly can help reduce the long-term effects of the injury. The Mayo Clinic provides a helpful list of reminders in preparing for your medical appointment for a spinal cord injury.
Once the medical team has diagnosed the problem, several treatment options are available. Their effectiveness may vary depending on the type of injury and where it has occurred. Treatment options include:
- Medicines (including pain relievers)
- Traction or braces to stabilize the injured area
- Surgery to remove broken or damaged vertebrae
- Rehabilitation therapy
- Mobility aids and assistive devices
Devastating Impact of Spinal Cord Injuries
Even after initial treatment, mobility assistance may be required permanently or throughout recovery. Usually, a hospital stay is required, and it can be lengthy. Then, another stay in a rehabilitation facility may also be required.
You may also require ongoing treatment to combat some of the side effects of a spinal cord injury. For example, muscle contractures, pressure ulcers, respiratory infections, blood clots, deconditioning, and bowel and bladder issues may all be common following a spinal cord injury.
A spinal cord injury can dramatically affect your daily life. In fact, you may no longer be able to complete seemingly simple tasks like taking care of yourself or walking. You may require the skills of a physical therapist, rehabilitation team, occupational therapist, dietitian, and specialized doctors.
Seeking Legal Help for Spinal Cord Injuries
If you have suffered through an accident that resulted in a spinal cord injury, you may have a personal injury case against the wrongdoer. A successful personal injury case can help pay for your past and future medical expenses. It can also provide monetary damages for the huge change in your lifestyle that you have likely experienced.
The Dixon Injury Firm can help you get the compensation that you deserve for this very serious, life-changing injury. You may not realize the full extent of your injuries and treatment for some time, so wait to talk about settlement with an insurance company until after you have spoken to us. Call The Dixon Injury Firm as soon as practical for a FREE legal consultation at 314-409-7060.