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Spinal Cord Basics – Q&A

By Matt Lalande in Spinal Cord Injuries on September 09, 2019

Spinal Cord Basics – Q&A

Q&A on spinal cord injuries

What is a spinal cord injury?

A spinal cord injury is any type of physical trauma to the spinal cord that interrupts the spinal cord resulting in axonal injury. Most spinal cord injury physical trauma is caused by crush or compression. A spinal cord injury can occur at any level of the vertebrae – and it is the segment of the cord that is injured and severity of injury which will determine which bodily functions are compromised or lost.

What happens to the spinal cord when it’s injured?

With direct physical trauma, spinal cord injury damage begins at the moment of injury. Typically bone fragments, disc materials, ligaments or foreign objects breach and tear the spinal cord. The axons are cut and damaged in the neural membranes are broken. Blood vessels can rupture and bleed  into the cord’s central grey matter, spreading to other areas around the cord. The spinal cord typically begins to swell and blood fill the entire cavity of the spinal canal at the level of injury. The swelling in the cavity causes a loss of blood flow in a reduction or loss of oxygen to the tissue.

What are typical causes of spinal cord injuries?

Spinal cord injuries can be caused by trauma, such as gunshot wounds, falls, motorcycle accidents, trucking accidents, pedestrian accidents, car accidents and diving injuries. Spinal cord injuries can also because by tumor, ischemia (resulting from obstruction of spinal cord vessels), developmental disorders, neuro- degenerative diseases, demyelinative diseases, or vascular malformation. In regards to physical trauma – car accidents, motorcycle accidents, pedestrian and trucking accidents are the causation of the preponderance of spinal cord injury in Canada (close to 50%) followed by violence, falls, sporting accidents and diving accidents.

What do spinal cord injury symptoms depend on?

Typically spinal cord injury symptoms depend on two factors – the location of the injury and the severity of the injury. The severity of the injury is subdivided into “complete spinal cord injury” or “incomplete spinal cord injury”.  A complete injury means that an accident victim would be paralyzed below the level of injury with total loss of motor function and sensation. In other words, the spinal cord cannot relay messages below the compromised level to the remaining body parts. Incomplete injury means that there are some movements and sensations below the injuries.

Are there different “levels” of spinal cord injury?

Yes, quadriplegia typically results from injury to one of the 8 cervical vertebraes. Quadriplegia can either be complete or incomplete. Paraplegia results from lesions in the thoracic, lumbar or sacral regions of the spinal cord. Similarly to quadriplegia, paraplegic accident victims can suffer both complete and incomplete spinal cord injuries.

What are the different spinal cord injury syndromes?

Central cord syndrome is a form of incomplete spinal cord injury characterized by impairment in the upper extremities. Typically symptoms include paralysis or loss of fine controlled movements in the arms and hands.

Brown-Sequard Syndrome is a rare neurological condition characterized by lesion in the spinal cord which results in weakness or paralysis on one side of the body and loss of sensation on the opposite side. Interior spinal syndrome is normally caused by compression of the artery that runs along the front of the spinal cord. The compression of the artery can happen from bone fragments or a large disc herniation that damages the cord.

Conus Medullaris results from injury to the tip of the spinal cord at the L1 which causes sudden and bilateral numbness.

Causa Equina is injury to the spinal roots below L1 the causes gradual and unilateral numbness in the lower extremities.

What are some complications of spinal cord injury?

Spinal cord injury can be complicated by cardiovascular issues, respiratory complications, skin breakdown, spasticity, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, autonomic dysreflexia, pulmonary embolism, chronic pain, psychological breakdown, emotional breakdown, osteoporosis and deep vein thrombosis to name a few.

Respitory complications of SCI include increased risk of pulmonary infection and death, and higher rates of symptoms of respiratory dysfunction. Typically, respiratory impairment following spinal cord injury (SCI) is more severe in high cervical injuries, and is characterized by diminished inspiratory capacity – in other words – the diminished capacity to take in air.

Injuries to the autonomic nervous system are the cause of many of the cardiovascular complications following a SCI. Cardiovascular dysfunction in patients with cervical and high thoracic SCI may be life-threatening and may exacerbate the neurological impairment due to the spinal cord injury.

Temperature regulation is another well-known clinical phenomenon after a spinal cord injury, especially with patients that suffer cervical and high thoracic injuries.

Anxiety and depression are very common after an SCI due to the psychological stress involved. Victims with good mental health are usually capable of coping with stress – however the extent of the injury, the accident victims current life situation, quality of life, demographic, age and financial state of affairs. This is why it’s important to retain a qualified spinal cord injury lawyer to ensure that your financial well-being is taking care of, as well as your housing and rehabilitation needs, for the rest of your life.

Pressure sores are also a common complication of spinal cord injury. Their most common pressure sores happen on the buttocks and heels, and can develop quite quickly and immobilize patients – actually within hours. Well known risk factors for pressure ulcers include immobility, medical comorbidities such as diabetes and other medical conditions, malnutrition, age and skin moisture.

Chronic pain is another complication which affects up to 70% of spinal cord injury victims. Chronic pain is largely resistant to treatment, and can have a negative effect on quality of life. Chronic pain can also worsen a person’s psychological problems such as anxiety stress and depression. You could read more on chronic pain and spinal cord injury here – including musculoskeletal, neuropathic, and visceral pain and pain management.

Have you or a loved on suffered a spinal cord injury?

If you or a loved one has suffered a spinal cord injury, it’s imperative that you contract a law firm with experience. It’s vital to get the proper insurance funding in place, your rehabilitation and occupational assistance in place as well as determine the financial burden and cost of care that you and your family are facing.  The recovery process for victims who are suffering from tetraplegia or paraplegia is often extremely long and intensive – and it’s important to have the right experts on your side to ensure that expenses. Call us today at 905-333-8888 or fill in a contact form. Our Hamilton Personal Injury Law firm typically replies in hours.

Information is taken from experience, pubmed.gov, athe Journal of Spinal Cord Injury Medicine as well as Scireproject.com publications.



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