The spinal cord relays nerve signals between the brain and the body that control mobility, sensation, and other bodily functions. If the spinal cord is damaged by an injury or disease, you may suffer paralysis and loss of sensation below the injury site. Getting assessment, treatment, and rehabilitation after a spinal cord injury is critical.
AlaMed Injury Clinics is a top option for spinal cord injury treatment. Our clinic has state-of-the-art technology and staff who have the most up-to-date knowledge in the field. Our clinic provides patients with the best care to help them regain as much function as possible and to empower them to lead active lives after their spinal cord injury.
The Structure of the Spinal Cord
The spinal cord is a bundle of nerve tissue with a semi-cylindrical structure that stretches from the brain stem at the base of the skull to almost the bottom of the spine. The spinal cord is surrounded by three thin layers of tissues called meninges. The spinal cord and meninges are surrounded and protected by the vertebrae (the bones of the back). Discs between the vertebrae serve as cushions.
The spinal cord is the communication channel that sends messages between the brain and the body. The spinal cord and brain make up the central nervous system (CNS).
Thirty-one pairs of spinal nerves emerge from the spinal cord and transmit nerve impulses between the spinal cord and the rest of the body.
What Is Its Function?
The spinal cord sends nerve impulses for movement, sensation, pressure, temperature, pain, and more. Here are the key functions of the spinal cord:
Transmit Information to the Brain
In this function, the impulses travel from the body to the brain. Sensations from the trunk, neck, and limbs are carried towards the brain.
Transmit Signals From the Brain
The spinal cord carries impulses from the brain that control movement and autonomic functions. When the brain orders organs or muscles to perform a certain action, the spinal cord sends these messages to the trunk, neck, and extremities.
The spinal cord can also act independently of the brain to conduct motor reflexes, like the reflex that makes a person jerk their knee when it is tapped in a certain spot.
What Is a Spinal Cord Injury?
A spinal cord injury refers to damage to the spinal cord inflicted by trauma or diseases that usually causes permanent loss of strength, sensation, mobility, and other bodily functions below the injury site. With a complete spinal cord injury, you lose all feeling and ability to control movement below the injury site. If you have an incomplete spinal cord injury, you still have some feeling and motor function in the affected area.
A spinal cord injury can happen if the spinal cord is severed, but the damage and loss of function can also be caused by an inflammatory process or compression of the spinal cord.
Symptoms of Spinal Cord Injuries
Suppose you feel that you're suffering from the loss of strength in any of your limbs, or you have problems with sensitivity, mobility, and other bodily functions. In that case, you could be suffering from a spinal cord injury. Do not wait to seek medical help, you require a diagnosis.
Symptoms of a spinal cord injury include:
- Sensitivity: loss of sensation or reduced sensation, including the ability to feel hot, cold, and touch.
- Pain or a severe stinging sensation: caused by damage to the nerve fibers in the spinal cord.
- Loss of bowel or bladder control: urine leakage or urinary retention, fecal incontinence, or abnormal and painful sensation.
- Muscular: Loss of movement, muscle spasms, muscle weakness, coordination problems, or overactive reflexes.
- Whole-body: feeling faint or sweating; changes in sexual function, sexual sensitivity, and fertility. Exaggerated reflex activities or spasms.
- Breathing: difficulty breathing, coughing, or clearing secretions from the lungs
In addition to causing physical damage, a spinal cord injury can impact you mentally, emotionally, and socially.
The following symptoms require urgent spinal cord care, more so when they appear after an accident:
- Trouble breathing after an injury.
- Severe back pain or pressure in the neck.
- Difficulty balancing and walking.
- Strange or twisted position of the neck or back.
- Loss of bladder or bowel control.
- Weakness, incoordination, or paralysis in any part of the body.
- Numbness, tingling, or loss of feeling in the hands, fingers, feet, or toes.
Request a consultation with AlaMed Injury Clinics.
Spinal Cord Injury Treatments
Although scientifically there are still no ways to reverse spinal cord damage, researchers are still working on developing new treatments and refining existing ones.
They are looking for new drugs, which promote the regeneration of nerve cells or improve the nerves' function that remain after a spinal cord injury (SCI).
Currently, SCI treatment revolves around preventing further harm and empowering people with SCI by helping them return to an active and productive life.
At the Scene of the Accident
Prompt medical attention at the accident scene is essential to minimize the effects of trauma on the affected part. Everything begins there.
Depending on the severity of the patient, emergency personnel usually:
- Immobilize the spine as quickly as possible, using a rigid cervical collar and a rigid table.
- Use a rigid stretcher to transport the patient to the hospital.
In the Emergency Room
Once the patient is admitted to the hospital, the doctors/specialists focus their attention on:
- Restore/maintain the patient's respiratory capacity.
- Ensure immobilization of the neck and spine to prevent further damage to the spinal cord.
Healthcare professionals can treat an acute injury by:
- Traction: This technique stabilizes the spine and aligns it properly.
- Surgery: Doctors may perform surgery to remove bone fragments, disc fragments, or foreign objects; remove the fluid or tissue that compresses the spinal cord (decompressive laminectomy), among other actions, for the benefit of the patient.
- Methylprednisolone (Medrol): Applying this steroid medication within 8 hours of injury tends to cause improvements in some patients. It appears to decrease inflammation near the site of injury, thereby minimizing nerve cell damage.
- Experimental Treatments: Doctors can, in a controlled/authorized way, use experimental treatments to control inflammation and promote the repair or regeneration of nerves in the investigative stage that seeks to stop cell death.
Treatment will depend on the severity of the patient's spinal cord injury. Today's rehabilitation and assistive devices enable many spinal cord injury patients to lead independent and productive lives.
Here are three of them:
Supportive care for spinal cord injuries includes the following methods:
- Mechanical Ventilation: Uses a machine to put air in and out of the lungs when the person cannot do it alone.
- Hydrotherapy: Uses water to relieve pain, treat illnesses, and maintain health, such as thermal baths and hot tubs, among others.
Use of Medications
Common medications that are used for spinal cord injuries include:
- Steroid: Modifies or simulates hormonal effects to reduce inflammation or to induce tissue growth and repair.
- Muscle relaxant: Reduce muscle tension and help relieve muscle pain and discomfort.
- Blood pressure support: Stimulates the rise in blood pressure when it is too low.
Popular rehabilitative treatment for injuries to the spine are:
Hydrotherapy: Uses thermal baths, hot tubs, and other water therapy to relieve pain, treat illnesses, and maintain health.
Neuropsychological Rehabilitation: Retraining of the brain pathways to improve physical and mental functioning, for example, after a blow to the head.
Other treatments can include surgery or medical procedures. Request a consultation with AlaMed Injury Clinics.
Common Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries
The two main causes of spinal cord injury are:
- Trauma such as car accidents, falls, gunshots, ruptured intervertebral disc, etc.
- Diseases such as poliomyelitis, cancer, spina bifida, primary or metastatic tumors, Friedreich's ataxia, hypertrophic osteitis of the spine, herniated discs, and others.
Of those cases, the most common causes of spinal cord injuries in the United States are:
- Car Accidents: It is the leading cause of spinal cord injuries. Car and motorcycle accidents account for nearly half of all new spinal cord injuries annually.
- Slips and Falls: Slip and falls are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries after age 65. In general, falls cause about 30% of spinal cord injuries.
- Acts of Violence: About 15% of spinal cord injuries result from violent encounters, usually from wounds from firearms. Wounds with knives are also common but on a smaller scale compared to the previous ones.
- Sports and Recreational Injuries: Sports and recreational activities such as impact sports and shallow-water diving cause about 12% of spinal cord injuries.
- Alcohol Consumption: A factor in about 1 in 4 spinal cord injuries is from alcohol use.
- Diseases: On a smaller scale than the previous ones, cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis, herniated discs, and inflammation of the spinal cord also appear in the statistics as causing injuries in the spinal cord.
Spinal Cord Injury Treatment With AlaMed Injury Clinic
In the beginning, a spinal cord injury often causes changes in the way the body works that can be overwhelming. However, our injury clinic, AlaMed Injury Clinics, has rehabilitation teams to assist spinal cord injury patients.
Our doctors, nurses, and therapists are here to treat your spinal cord injury. We specialize in helping spinal cord injury patients develop the tools they need to address the changes caused by injury, as well as recommending equipment and resources to promote the quality of life and independence they deserve. Contact us today.