Spinal Cord Injuries
The spinal cord is sensitive to injury and its ability to repair itself if damaged is limited. These injuries occur from trauma, compression from tumor or infection, or loss of normal blood supply. In the US, there are approximately 10,000 new cases of spinal cord injury each year.
Injuries to the spinal cord are most often traumatic caused by dislocation and hyperflexion or hyperextension of the cord. Falls, motor vehicle accidents, and work-related injuries are also common traumatic injuries of the spinal cord. Non-traumatic injuries include cancer, infection, or inflammation.
A spinal cord injury can cause weakness or paralysis, as well as pain or loss of sensation in the affected areas. More severe injuries will affect spinal cord function below the injured area. In an incomplete spinal cord injury, some or all functions below the injured area may be unaffected. In contrast, with a complete spinal cord injury, all function below the injured area is lost.
Unfortunately, damage made to the spinal cord is not reversible. The primary goal for physicians is to establish the diagnosis and initiate treatment to prevent further neurologic injury. For instance, surgery may be necessary to remove portions of the vertebrae that have broken and are compressing the spinal cord. A combination of metal screws, rods, and plates may be implanted to further stabilize the spine until the vertebrae heal.
After the initial injury is stabilized, attention is turned to preventing secondary problems from occurring such as respiratory infections, bowel and bladder issues, and blood clots.
Aggressive rehabilitation and physical therapy after surgery maximizes recovery. If there is any recovery of function, the majority of it will happen within the first six months of rehabilitation. Any loss of function still present after a year is likely to remain permanent.