A spinal cord injury is trauma or damage to the spinal cord as a result of a direct blow to the spine or injury to the surrounding tissue, bones or blood vessels. Motor vehicle and motorcycle accidents are common causes of spinal cord injury, as are sports injuries, construction accidents, and gunshot wounds. Also, each year there are a number of people, usually young people, who suffer severe spinal cord injuries from diving head first into shallow water.
Injury can occur when a person’s back or neck is pulled, twisted or compressed during an accident or sporting incident. A person is more susceptible to injury if they have osteoporosis or rheumatic arthritis, which weakens the spine, or stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal that protects the spine.
After a spinal cord injury, swelling or fluid accumulation takes place, which can damage the spine even further unless immediate medical attention is rendered. Corticosteroids are used to reduce the swelling and the risk of spinal compression that can lead to a more serious and permanent condition.
Symptoms include breathing difficulties, loss of normal bowel and bladder control, numbness in the limbs, pain, weakness, and paralysis. A spinal injury to the neck or upper back can involve excessive sweating and high blood pressure readings.
Herniated discs are a form of spinal injury that affects millions of people. A spinal disc acts as a cushion between each vertebrae. It becomes rigid with age and a portion of the disc may rupture or come outside of its normal space and pinch the spinal nerves, and it may also compress the spine. Symptoms include numbness, tingling, weakness, and the feeling of electric shocks going down your arms or legs.
Treatment of a spinal cord injury depends upon the severity of the trauma. Steroids are usually administered to prevent further damage, and surgery may be performed within hours of the injury to stabilize the spine or if the cord is compressed. Fusion can permanently stabilize the spinal column along with rods, wires and screws.
In less severe cases, rest, physical therapy, occupational therapy and counseling is required to meet the individual needs of the patient.
Herniated discs can be treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS), oral steroids, epidural steroid injections, and other types of interventional pain management. The goal of treatment is to reduce inflammation and relieve pressure around the compressed nerves. Surgery is recommended if there is significant weakness or a progressing problem.