All About Spinal Injury
The spinal cord is responsible for transmitting messages from various body parts to and from the brain. This is the major reason why a spinal injury is very dangerous as it causes interruption in the proper functioning of your message board and so your bodily functions. The injury usually happens when there is damage to the vertebrae, ligaments, spinal column discs, or the spinal cord. Controlling your body’s motor and sensory functions, you want to avoid damage to the spinal cord and surrounding tissues.
A spinal injury is known to get worse in weeks following the damage and this is caused by the swelling, infection, bleeding, accumulation of fluid and inflammation in the affected areas around the spinal cord.
Causes and risk factors for injury to the spine
• Certain diseases can increase the risk of a spinal injury or cause the injury such as cancer, osteoporosis, arthritis, inflammation and infection of the spinal cord, or degeneration of the spinal discs.
• Approximately 25% of all spinal injuries are caused by a fall, especially in those of the older generation. They have weaker constitution and combined with other age complications, they are more likely to fall and injure this vital region.
• Violence, this covers fights, knife and gunshot wounds either inflicted by oneself or by another person. During a fight, a gun shot or knife can be used to severe the spine either intentionally or unknowingly. Also, neck injuries are common among people who like to fight and an injury to the vertebrae in this area will leave one with complete paralysis.
• 8% of the injuries to the spine come as a result of sporting and other recreational activities such as diving and extreme sports gone wrong such as bungee jumping.
• Extreme trauma such as getting an electric shock, being struck by lightning, or the body somehow being twisted into half at the middle.
• In the U.S., only 20% of the spinal patients are women. It seems that the injury is more likely to occur if one is male. It could also simply be that boys and men are more likely to involve themselves in risky activities such as fights.
• Majority of the patients are between the ages of 16 and 30. This means they are more likely to involve themselves in dangerous behavior, one of which is drunk driving. Motor accidents are one of the major causes of spinal and back related injuries
Symptoms of the injury
The symptoms can be divided into 2 categories, those that appear immediately upon impact and those that may take sometime to start showing especially in the non-traumatic cases.
Immediate symptoms in case of an accident:
• Odd positioning of the neck, back and head, clear indicator that the vertebrae have been moved from their normal position.
• Inability to control the bladder and bowels.
• Tingling sensation or loss of feeling in fingers, arms, and legs. This may also be coupled with inability to walk normally or find balance.
• Weakness, numbness, or paralysis in any parts of the body.
• Excessive pressure and pain in the back, head and neck immediately after impact. Also watch out for the person’s breathing.
• Inability to move and or feel anything such as the cold, heat, or pressure.
• Uncoordinated reflexes and spasms, bladder and bowel control is disrupted.
• Extreme pain and stinging sensation as a result of damaged spinal cord fibers.
• Reduced or non-existent sexual function, sensitivity and or fertility. Women rarely have this problem, as it mostly affects the males.
• Breathing, coughing, and clearing the lungs becomes harder.
Tests and diagnosis
The doctors will order either all or a combination of certain tests in order to get an idea of the extent of the damage. X-rays are done to determine what parts of the spine have been injured, CT-scan may be ordered to get a clearer view of the injuries identified by the X-ray, and an MRI may also be done to find out if there are any masses that are putting pressure on the spine or the spinal discs. Doctors will also need to perform a neurological exam to figure out the extent and level of the completeness of your injury. This determines what is still and what is no longer working.
You may or may not already know, but cure or reversal of the effects of a spinal injury is not currently possible. Research is underway to find a way to get the damaged nerves to function again but there has been no success so far. The best doctors can do is try and curtail the damage before it gets too far, this is why first aid and initial treatment is very crucial. In most cases, it will determine the extent of the damage later caused by complications.
The best thing to do as first aid is to immobilize the person’s neck and head to avoid further damage, give CPR in case the person is having difficulty moving and wait for the ambulance team.
Methylprednisolone, if administered within the first six hours of the injury is suspected to reduce or halt in some way the further damage to the spinal nerves. It however can not cure the nerve damage that has already occurred. Surgery can be done to remove any masses such as blood clots, bone fragments that may be putting added pressure on the spine.
To help rehabilitate the patient, a team of professionals including a physical therapist, dietician, psychologist, doctor specializing in spinal cord injuries, rehabilitation nurse, and an occupational therapist will be needed.
Some technologies said to improve the quality of life of those affected by spinal injuries include modern wheel chairs that can go over stairs, elevate the patient, and are light weight for easier mobility. Another can be computer adaptations with voice recognition software, robotic gait training, electrical stimulation devices and electronic living aids that help carry out everyday functions.
Complications likely to arise out of a spinal injury:
• The brain may not be able to control your bladder anymore. You will still store urine in the bladder from the kidneys but how and when it is released may be out of your control. This increases the risk of urinary tract infections as well as bladder and or kidney stones. Controlling your bowels may also be a problem.
• Feeling to the skin is usually lost and one is not able to feel heat, cold, pressure or touch to the skin. This can result into a number of injuries such as pressure sores, as the patient is unable to feel any pain and so can not tell that anything is wrong.
• Blood circulation may also be affected, with one suffering from either low blood pressure or a more severe high blood pressure. There is also increased risk of deep vein blood clots and also swelling of blood vessels.
• Respiratory issues may also arise if chest and abdomen muscles have been affected. Since you can not control these muscles as the connection to the brain has been severed, breathing and other related activities such as coughing are difficult. The person is now also at higher risk of contracting pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.
• The muscles may become either extremely tight and rigid or very loose and flaccid. There is no way of controlling them. And with the inability to move your muscles come other complications that arise out of an inactive body such as obesity and diabetes.
• Men’s sexual health is usually much affected as they face problems with erections and ejaculations. Women usually only suffer minor lubrication issues and can go on to have children and breastfeed. Men on the other hand also face fertility issues and may never be able to have children.
• For those with incomplete injury, there may be joint and muscle pain due to over usage of the still functioning muscles. There is also a possibility of nerve pain arising out of the point of damage.
• With all these complications and the fact that one can not move anymore, patients are bound to fall into depression as they begin to think that their lives are worthless and they would rather be dead. This is the most dangerous of all complications as it can single handedly reduce the person’s ability to continue living.
For all these complications, the rehabilitation team has some ways of making it better and ensuring that the person has a comfortable existence as much as possible.
Spinal injury is complete when one can not control any parts of their body. Paralysis to the entire body is what is known as quadriplegia and results from damage to the cervical or neck area. Incomplete injury is where certain parts of the body can still function such as the upper body, while the lower body is completely paralyzed.
Be certain to avoid activities that can result in spine injury such as careless or drunk driving, always check water level before diving and stay away from fights. Playing on slippery surfaces such as tiles may also increase risk of falling and acquiring a head injury which in most cases is a precursor to spinal injury.