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The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that forms a cord that passes from the brainstem in the upper neck to the sacral area. Damage to the spinal cord can be temporary but is most likely a permanent phenomenon. Nerves just do not repair themselves very well.

The effect of a spinal cord injury depends on the location of the injury. High injuries tend to lead to quadriplegia, while lower injuries tend to lead to paraplegia. Complete injuries affect both sides of the body at once and incomplete injuries affect only a segment of the body.

Signs and symptoms of a spinal cord injury include the following:

  • Paralysis of movement
  • Lack of sensation
  • Exaggerated reflexes
  • Lack of bladder or bowel control
  • Sexual changes
  • Difficulty breathing

When a spinal cord injury has just happened, the following symptoms and signs can be noted:

  • Extreme pain in the back or neck
  • Weakness or paralysis of a body part
  • Loss of bowel and bladder control
  • Numbness or tingling in the extremities
  • Impaired breathing
  • Oddly positioned back or neck
  • Difficulty walking
  • Difficulty with balance

If there is a suspicion of a neck or back injury, you shouldn't move the individual and should call 911 for assistance. Make sure the person does not try to move themselves and put towels on either side of the neck to keep it still. Use basic first aid measures for other types of injuries.

Spinal cord injuries are caused by injuries to the ligaments, vertebrae, or discs that secondarily lacerate, crush or penetrate the spinal cord. The spine itself can be compressed, crushed, fractured or dislocated at a single level or at multiple levels. The injury can result from an automobile injury, knife wound, a sports injury or a gunshot wound. Damage can occur right away or can gradually happen over days and weeks because of increased inflammation, swelling and bleeding.

When there is damage to the spinal cord, it can be traumatic or nontraumatic. It causes injury to the nerve fibers that pass from the brain to the exterior nerve fibers. Cervical injuries can affect the arms, legs and possibly the ability to breathe. Thoracic and lumbar vertebral injuries tend to affect some aspects of the legs, bowel and bladder function. Sexual function can be affected if the injury is anywhere along the spinal cord.

The most common causes of a spinal cord injury include falls from great heights, motor vehicle crashes, sports and rec injuries, acts of violence with gunshots and knife injury, certain diseases like osteoporosis and cancer, or alcohol. In fact, alcohol is a factor in one out of every four spinal cord injuries.

Risk factors for spinal cord injury, besides alcohol, include being of male gender, engaging in risky behavior, having a bone or joint condition that can damage the cord or being between the ages of 16 and 30.

There are some health conditions that will need intervention from a rehabilitation team. These include managing the urine in your bladder, usually by means of a catheter, which is intermittent or continuous, bowel control with a high fiber diet and laxatives, and overcoming a lack of skin sensation. You’ll need to control your circulation so you don’t pass out on arising and develop blood clots in the legs. Breathing can be difficult so you might need a ventilator and need to take care of the possibility of respiratory infections. Braces are used to maintain some strength in otherwise limp and flaccid muscles. If there are any exercises you can do, you should practice these so you are as strong as possible. Fertility can be managed with certain techniques that can cause ejaculation.

Some patients suffer from joint and muscle pain from overuse of the available muscles used to pick up the slack from unused muscles. Patients can also suffer from depression, which can be situational or chronic.

Medical Negligence Solicitors

If you have been injured by a healthcare professional including a doctor, dentist, nurse or technician and would like to speak to a spinal cord injury medical negligence lawyer without further obligation, just use the helpline. A medical negligence lawyer who deals exclusively in personal injury claims will speak to you, giving free advice and information on how best to preserve your legal right to receive compensation as a result of injuries caused by medical negligence.

Our personal injury solicitors operate a specialist medical negligence compensation service. Our Spine Injury solicitors deal with claims using a no win no fee arrangement which means that if you don't win then you don't pay them their professional costs. If you would like legal advice at no cost with no further obligation just complete the contact form or email our lawyers offices or use the helpline and a Spine Injury solicitor will review your medical negligence compensation claim and phone you immediately.

Our spinal cord injury medical negligence lawyers have solicitors offices situated in Adelaide, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, Brisbane and Darwin.

Spinal Cord Injury - Overview

A spinal cord injury involves physical damage to the spinal cord secondary to fall or motor vehicle accident or gunshot wound that results in a loss of function of the spinal cord distal to the level of the injury. About ten thousand new cases of spinal cord injury occur each year with about 45000 people currently alive within the US with spinal cord injury. Eighty two percent of individuals are males between the ages of 16-30. Thirty six percent are due to motor vehicle accidents, while 29 percent are due to violence like a shot gun injury and 21 percent are due to falls. Quadriplegia beats out paraplegia slightly more often.

The spinal cord may be severed as a result of the trauma but many spinal cord injuries just cause stretching of the spinal cord or death of spinal nerves without transaction. The spinal cord, in the latter situations, does not function, even though it looks grossly normal. Under the microscope, the spinal cord would look damaged or dead.

The cause of the spinal cord injury is the disruption of the spinal cord or loss of blood supply to the spinal cord injury. This isn't the same as breaking one's back or neck. You can easily break your back or your neck and not sustain any spinal cord injury. The bones need to be stabilized so that the bones don't disrupt the spinal cord secondary to the traumatic injury.

Normally, the eighteen inch spinal cord is protected within the vertebrae in the back. When the back bones get disrupted or when a projectile enters the spinal canal, the spinal cord is disrupted. The nerves are known as upper motor neuron nerves that send signals from the lower motor neuron nerves or peripheral nerves to the brain and vice versa. When there is a disruption of the upper motor neurons, the individual cannot pass information back and forth between the brain and the body. The person becomes paralyzed below the level of the disruption. Quadriplegia involves a lesion high in the neck or upper thorax and affects both the upper and lower extremities. Lesions involving most of the thoracic back or lumbar back can result in paraplegia, which involves just the lower extremities. One leg or arm can be affected to a greater degree than the other extremity if there is just partial damage or transaction of the cord. There are seven cervical vertebrae, twelve thoracic vertebrae and five lumbar vertebrae.

The effects of spinal cord injury depend on the level of the injury and the type of the injury involved. There can be complete injuries to the spinal cord, which affect the entirety of the upper or lower extremities of the body. The major symptoms include paralysis of the extremities with tone that can be decreased or increased. Tone tends to start out low and increase over time as the upper motor neuron function is diminished over time. Again, one arm or leg can function greater than the other in an incomplete injury. An incomplete injury is more common now that improved treatment is out there for managing spinal cord injuries.

Neck injuries usually result in a form of quadriplegia. Injuries above C4 may mean the individual needs ventilator support for breathing. Injuries at C5 provide control over the upper arms but not the lower arms or hands. Injuries at C6 provide good wrist control but there is often no hand functionality. C7 and T1 injuries can yield some hand functioning but the individual may have problems with manual dexterity of the hand. Levels at T9 to T12 mean that you have reasonable trunk control but have poor or no control over the lower extremities. The loss of function can involve both motor and sensory function.

The treatment of spinal cord injuries involves resting the spinal cord and stabilizing the bones surrounding the spinal cord. This means surgery to put plates and screws into the spinal bones. It also means taking corticosteroids and fluid medication to shrink swelling of the spinal cord in the acute phases of the injury.

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The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here