Damage to the spinal cord is one of the scariest and most debilitating injuries a person can experience. These types of injuries as to cause paralysis, and can require extensive physical therapy in order to make any recovery at all. Not all spinal cord injuries lead to paralysis, but at a minimum nerve damage of some sort is the result.
The spinal cord is covered by vertebrae, which amount to a protective canal of bone. The vertebrae guard the spinal cord against significant damage, but damage to the vertebrae can often mean damage to the spinal cord. Harm to the vertebrae, for example in a car or motorcycle accident, can rip into the spinal cord or put pressure on the nerves, which in turn affects the spinal cord’s ability to function properly.
Significant damage to the spine and spinal cord is often caused by a sudden force which results in a fracture or compression of the vertebrae. Such force can be caused by a car accident, motorcycle accident, slip and fall, sports injury, or other sudden trauma. Severe damage to the spinal cord can be instantaneous or gradual as the injury swells, bleeds, and inflames over days or weeks.
Here are some indications that you or someone you know has suffered a spinal injury following an accident:
Severe pain in the neck, head or back
Lack of coordination or control over any part of the body
Numbness or loss of feeling in hands and feet
In a complete spinal cord injury, the result is the cord’s inability to relay messages below the place of injury, which often means paralysis below the point of injury. However, incomplete spinal cord injuries often result in some movement and sensation. Because damage to the spinal cord is a life-altering, and in some cases life-ending trauma, immediate medical attention is of the utmost importance.
If someone has been involved in an accident and you suspect he or she has suffered a spinal injury, remember that the victim should not be moved: moving someone who has suffered an injury to the spine can result in permanent paralysis. If, for example, the victim has been in a motorcycle or bicycle accident, do not attempt to remove his or her helmet. Do your best to limit the victim’s movements until Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) arrive on the scene.
For more information on spinal cord injury and treatment, please visit the Mayo Clinic website.