A spinal cord injury can include damage to any part of the spinal cord or nerves that causes permanent changes in strength, sensation, and other body functions below the site of the injury. Ability to control the limbs after an injury depends on the place of the injury along the spinal cord and the severity, which is classified as complete (feeling and movement below the site of injury is lost) or incomplete (some motor or sensory function is possible below the site of injury). Spinal cord injuries may result from damage to the vertebrae, ligaments, or discs along the spinal cord, which is caused by sudden, traumatic injury, such as auto accidents, falls, abuse, sports-related injuries, and other diseases like cancer or arthritis. Birth-related injuries may also play a role in children with acute spinal injuries.
Spinal cord injuries can lead to loss of movement, loss of or altered sensation, loss of bowel or bladder control, exaggerated reflexes or spasms, changes in sexual function, pain or stinging sensation, and difficulty breathing, coughing, or clearing secretions from the lungs.
This can be diagnosed via blood tests and imaging tests like X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT) scans.
There is no cure to repair a damaged or bruised spinal cord. Treatment will be individualized and based on age and extent and type of injury. Corticosteroids may be administered to decrease the swelling in the spinal cord. Surgery is sometimes necessary to evaluate the injured cord, stabilize fractured bones in the back, release pressure from the injured area, and manage other injuries that may have resulted from the original accident. Long-term rehabilitation will also be required. Electrical stimulation devices may be used to control the arm and leg muscles to allow people with spinal cord injuries to stand, walk, reach, and grip.