What is a spinal cord injury?
Spinal cord injuries (SCI) are the most common cause of disability worldwide. They affect 1 in every 8 people over their lifetime. SCIs result from trauma or disease such as stroke, head trauma, motor vehicle accidents, falls and other causes. There are many different types of SCIs including: Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Cerebral Palsy, Hemiplegia and others.
The brain is one of the major organs affected by SCIs. It contains many vital functions such as regulating body temperature, controlling blood pressure, controlling heart rate and much more. The damage caused by a spinal cord injury can range from mild to severe depending on how far along it is in its development. Milder cases may not require any special medical attention but they will need support in daily activities such as walking and talking.
Severe cases may require surgery to repair the damaged area.
How does a spinal cord injury happen?
There are several factors which contribute to the development of a spinal cord injury. These include: Trauma – Any type of physical force that injures the central nervous system (CNS). Examples include car crashes, falls and sports related injuries such as football, hockey or boxing. Chronic – A condition that occurs for extended periods of time and can occur at any age. The most common types of spinal cord injury in adults are degenerative diseases such as arthritis and spinal stenosis. In children, the most common cause of a spinal cord injury is a congenital disorder such as spina bifida. Congenital disorders occur while the fetus is developing inside the mother’s womb.
How does a spinal cord injury affect the body?
There are three major functions that are affected by a spinal cord injury. The first is motor control. This involves controlling voluntary movement of the body and maintaining balance. Without the brain sending signals along the spinal cord to the nerves, these actions are not possible.
The second is sensory. This affects how we receive information from our environment. If the spinal cord injury is in the upper part of a person’s back, this may cause paralysis and loss of sensation in parts of the body below the level of injury.
The third major function is autonomic. This involves controlling involuntary actions such as breathing, blood pressure and digestion. These can be affected by spinal cord injuries depending on where the level of injury is. This can be life-threatening without immediate medical attention.
Who is at risk of a spinal cord injury?
There are many factors that contribute to a person’s risk of developing a spinal cord injury. The most common risk factors are: Age – The most common age for a spinal cord injury to occur is between 15 and 30 years old. This is when people engage in activities that result in the highest risk of spinal cord injuries. Gender – Men are more likely to suffer from a spinal cord injury than women. This may be due to increased participation in dangerous sports or other activities that result in a higher risk of injury. Lack of experience – A lack of experience in a certain activity can contribute to an increased risk of injury. For example, diving into a swimming pool where the water is shallow results in a higher risk of spinal cord injury than diving into a pool where the water is deep. Alcohol and drug use – Alcohol and certain drugs (e.g. painkillers) can affect your ability to move quickly or react quickly to unexpected events. This can result in an increased risk of spinal cord injury. Age – As people get older, their bones become more brittle and this increases the risk of spinal cord injury from a fall or similar trauma. Having a medical condition – Certain diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, can affect blood flow to the brain and cause a fall resulting in a spinal cord injury.
The risks of spinal cord injuries can be reduced with the correct safety equipment and safety measures while engaging in sports and other activities.
What are the symptoms of a spinal cord injury?
The level of the spinal cord injury will determine which body systems are affected. The higher the level of injury, the more symptoms and systems that are affected. Symptoms can also vary depending on where the spinal cord is injured in relation to other parts of the body. Symptoms may also be affected by other factors such as medical conditions or drugs taken (recreational or prescriptions).
The symptoms of a spinal cord injury can include: Loss of sensation, loss of bowel and bladder control, decreased ability to move parts of the body, reduced or absent sexual desire, reduced or absent fertility in men, shoulder droop, difficulty in walking or moving, weak grip in the hands, loss of ability to feel pain (i.e. inability to determine when your body is undergoing physical trauma).
The specific symptoms experienced can depend on which area of the spinal cord is injured.
Injuries at the base of the neck or upper back can result in respiratory failure. If the injury is very severe, it can result in death.
Injuries to the middle of the spinal column can affect the part of the body that goes below the level of injury. This can result in paralysis or loss of feeling in parts of the body below the level of injury.
Injuries to the top part of the spinal column can affect the arms and hands. Paralysis or loss of movement can occur, as well as numbness and a lack of feeling in these areas.
What causes a spinal cord injury?
The causes of spinal cord injuries can vary depending on the area of the spinal column that is damaged. Spinal cord injuries can be caused by: Car accidents – Car accidents are one of the most common causes of spinal cord injuries. This is particularly true for people that are in the age range of 16-25 years old. Falls – Falls are another common cause of spinal cord injuries. Falls are more likely to result in a spinal cord injury if the victim was drinking, on drugs or otherwise intoxicated at the time of the accident. Sports – Injuries can occur during contact sports such as football, rugby and hockey. These injuries are more common in younger victims. The head or neck area is most at risk of injury, however other parts of the body can also be affected if the force of impact is great enough.
Treatment options vary depending on the type and severity of the spinal cord injury. The extent of spinal cord injury also affects treatment choices.
The main goal of treatment is to limit the extent of injury and prevent permanent damage. This may include treating any other injuries or illnesses that were a factor in the original accident.
Treatment may include: Physical therapy – To strengthen muscles and improve movement in the arms and legs. Medicines – To control pain and other symptoms. Surgery – Surgery may be required if there is bone or tissue damage in the spinal cord area.
Treatment for spinal cord injury is most effective when started as soon as possible after the accident.
The future outlook for someone diagnosed with a spinal cord injury is variable and dependent on many factors such as the type and location of the injury. The majority of spinal cord injury patients can maintain a reasonable quality of life if given the proper treatment and care.
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