The spine is a complex structure. On the outside, there’s a stack of bones ― called vertebrae ― and discs that form the spinal column, which provides strength, stability, and flexibility. It also protects a fragile, tubelike bundle of nerves called the spinal cord that connects your brain to the rest of your body.
Spinal cord injuries can occur for various reasons, including damage to the vertebrae, ligaments, or discs in the spine. These types of problems often develop in response to a traumatic event, such as:
It’s also possible to experience acute spinal injuries due to illnesses like infections, arthritis, or cancer.
Spinal cord injuries can cause a variety of symptoms, depending on their severity and location.
You can typically assume that the higher the injury occurs in the spine, the more severe and widespread the symptoms. For example, sustaining an injury to your lower back may affect your body from the waist down. However, damage to your cervical spine can impact everything from your neck down, including your chest, arms, and legs.
When evaluating spinal cord injuries, doctors also use specific terms to describe the extent of the damage, including:
Sometimes, the symptoms of a spinal cord injury can get confused with other medical problems or conditions.
When you sustain a traumatic injury to your spine, the spinal cord can go into shock. This response can lead to symptoms, including decreased or loss of feeling, reflexes, and muscle movement. However, as swelling subsides, additional symptoms can develop. As we mentioned above, these sensations can vary depending on the location of your spinal cord injury.
Your spinal cord acts like a bridge, connecting your brain with the rest of your body. This is what gives your body its ability to move and feel. When these nerve connections in the spine get damaged, it can impact your ability to feel things, including touch and temperature. It can also trigger numbness or tingling in your fingers, hands, feet, or toes.
In addition to sensory loss, an acute spinal cord injury can impact your motor function, leading to muscle weakness or loss of voluntary muscle movement in the arms, chest, or legs. At the same time, it’s also common to have uncontrolled muscle spasming ― or spasticity.
Approximately 65-78% of people with spinal cord injuries have spasticity. This occurs because the disrupted nerve signals running between the brain, spinal cord, and the rest of the body cause reflex muscle spasming.
While most people associate spinal cord injuries with loss of feeling, they can also trigger intense pain. This symptom of an acute spine injury often develops because of damage to the nerve fibers in the spinal cord. Pain symptoms can vary from pressure in your head or neck to extreme or stabbing pain in your back.
We don’t have to spend time reminding ourselves to breathe because our brains do it for us. The brain keeps the respiratory system humming by sending messages through the spinal cord to activate the muscles needed to inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide.
However, when you sustain damage to your cervical spine (neck), it can interfere with your brain’s ability to send these messages to the muscles controlling these breathing movements.
Like your respiratory system, your bladder and bowels rely on nerves and muscles to function. Without a proper connection to your brain, you can no longer control your bladder or bowels.
Even if you don't have obvious symptoms, schedule an appointment immediately if you sustained a spine injury to rule out a spinal cord injury. Screenings typically include X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and neurological studies to identify and determine the severity of your injury.
After reaching a diagnosis, we can create a personalized treatment strategy to help keep you comfortable and manage your symptoms.
To learn more about spinal injuries, contact Metro Pain Centers online or over the phone to book an appointment today.