The spinal cord is a long, thin, tubular extension of the nervous system connecting the brain to the rest of the body. It passes through the posterior part of the neck and to the back. An adult spinal cord is usually around 46 cm or 18 inches in length. Since it is the bridge of messages to and from the brain, damage to the spinal cord can lead to fatal injury.2
HOW IT IS SUSTAINED
Spinal injuries (spinal cord injuries, SCI) usually start with a strong impact that fractures or dislocates the spinal column which is the set of bone discs that comprise the spine. Most vehicular injuries don’t injure the spinal cord. Instead, these injuries cause breakage when pieces of spinal column tear into the spinal cord tissue or compress the nerve parts that carry the nerve signals to and from the brain. In a complete spinal cord injury, the spinal cord can’t send and receive nerve signals below the level of the injury. As a consequence, paralysis will result below the level of injury. In a partial spinal cord injury, movement and sensation below the level of injury are impaired. 4
SYMPTOMS OF A SPINAL INJURY
Since the spinal cord is an internal structure, it is hard to assume if there is an injury. Assume that there is spinal cord injury with these following symptoms4:
- If there is a head injury with a continuing change in the person’s level of alertness or consciousness
- If there is severe pain in the patient’s posterior neck or back
- If the person can’t move his or her neck
- If the impact due to the motor vehicle accident is from the back
- If there is a complaint of generalized weakness, numbness or paralysis or lack of control on his or her limbs, bladder or bowels
- If the neck or back is twisted or positioned abnormally
Diagnosis of spinal cord injury is confirmed using and MRI. If the person is not severely injured, neurological exams can also be performed.
TREATMENT OF SPINAL CORD INJURY
In cases of spinal cord Injury from car accidents, immediate medical assistance and treatment is essential. Certain first-aid procedures can be performed if medical help is on the way3.
- The person must keep still. Never let him move or walk unless important (e.g. getting him out of a burning vehicle). Never remove a person’s helmet if there is a possibility of spinal injury.
- If the person’s neck or any body part is distorted, never try to realign or straighten it as it may cause further injury.
- If the person is unconscious, check if the person is breathing and pulse either in the arm or neck. If there is no signs of breathing or pulse, proper rescue breathing and CPR can be done.
- If the person is vomiting or choking on blood, the person must be rolled over. When rolling him over, two persons are required to assist to maintain the proper alignment of the person’s head, neck, and back.
Usually, removal of debris and realignment of the spinal column is done immediately in the hospital to prevent infection. Currently, there is no effective means to promote repair of injured spinal cord tissue. Some experimental approaches with promising results include the use of possible drugs that influence reinnervation by axons of the corticospinal tract, nerve and neural sheath graft bridges, and the local introduction of stem cells. Rehabilitation can be done but the possibility of gradual recovery from an acute destructive spinal cord injury fades after 6 months. 2 Long-term spinal injuries comprise 1.6% of all road traffic injuries worldwide. 5
PREVENTION OF SPINAL CORD INJURY
When driving, traffic regulations must be obeyed all the time.5 Motorcycle and bicycle riders are at more risk of having this type of injury. Wearing a proper helmet while riding a bicycle or motorcycle prevents SCI. Wearing seatbelts when riding motor vehicles also reduce the chance of SCI. Children under the age of 1 should not be carried on a bicycle or motorcycle since their bones are not yet strong enough to withstand stress.1
If you have been injured in a Missouri motor vehicle accident, contact Missouri and St. Louis car accident lawyer Christopher R. Dixon immediately to discuss your case. Call 314.409.7060 or toll-free at 855-402-7274.
1American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Spinal Cord Injury Prevention Tips. 5550 Meadowbrook Drive, Rolling Meadows, IL 60008-3852