Spinal Cord Injury: Types of Injuries, Symptoms and Treatment

Every year many people suffer spinal cord accidents.

What leaves injured people and their friends and family with the need to face the consequences of the catastrophe.

For many, navigating the challenges of the health care system may seem a bit like going to medical school.

Suddenly you are learning a true abundance of new terms, and you may be spending endless hours searching Google for the anatomy of the spinal cord to fill gaps in your knowledge.

An educated patient is better equipped to advocate for their needs and interests. An education in spinal cord anatomy helps you understand what your doctor says, ask smart questions and detect medical errors before they endanger your health.

Although you might think of your spinal cord as a single piece, it is actually a column of nerves protected by a layer of myelin and then secured by 31 butterfly-shaped vertebrae.

Doctors divide the spinal cord into four different regions. Knowing the region in which the lesion is located is often the key to understanding the diagnosis and treatment.

The four regions of the spinal cord are:

The cervical spinal cord: This is the highest part of the spinal cord, where the brain connects to the spinal cord and the neck connects to the back.

This region consists of eight vertebrae, commonly called C1-C8. All the numbers of the spinal cord descend, so that C1 is the highest vertebra, while C8 is the lowest in this region.

The thoracic spinal cord: This section forms the center of the spinal cord, which contains twelve vertebrae numbered T1-T12.

The lumbar spinal cord: This is a lower region of the spinal cord, where your spinal cord begins to bend. If you place your hand on the lower part of your back, where your back bends inward, you will feel your lower back.

There are five lumbar vertebrae, numbered L1-L5.

The sacral column: This is the lower region, in the shape of a triangle of the spine, also with five vertebrae. While the lumbar cord is bent inward, the vertebrae of the sacral region curve slightly outward.

There is no real spinal cord in this section, it consists of nerve roots that leave the spine at their respective vertebral levels.

The coccygeal region: Sometimes known as coccyx or tail bone, it consists of a single vertebra at the very base of the spinal cord.

Types of spinal cord injuries

All spinal cord injuries are divided into two broad categories, complete and incomplete.

Incomplete injuries of the spinal cord: With incomplete injuries, the cord is cut only partially, allowing the injured person to retain some function.

In these cases, the degree of function depends on the extent of the injuries.

Complete injuries of the spinal cord: On the contrary, complete injuries occur when the spinal cord is completely cut, which eliminates function. However, with treatment and physical therapy, it is possible to recover some function.

Incomplete spinal cord injuries are becoming more frequent, thanks in part to better treatment and better understanding of how to respond and how not to respond to a possible spinal cord injury.

These injuries now account for more than 60% of spinal cord injuries, which means that we are really moving towards better treatment and better outcomes.

Some of the most common types of incomplete or partial spinal cord injuries include:

Anterior cord syndrome: This type of injury, in front of the spinal cord, damages the motor and sensory pathways in the spinal cord. It may retain some sensation, but makes movement difficult.

Central cord syndrome: It is a lesion in the center of the cord and damages the nerves that carry signals from the brain to the spinal cord.

The loss of fine motor skills, paralysis of the arms and partial deterioration, usually less pronounced, in the legs are common.

Some survivors also lose control of the bowel or bladder, or lose the ability to function sexually.

Brown-Sequard syndrome: This variety of injury is the product of damage to one side of the spinal cord. The injury may be more pronounced on one side of the body; For example, movement may be impossible on the right side, but it may be completely retained on the left side.

The degree to which Brown-Sequard patients are injured varies greatly from patient to patient.

Knowing the location of your injury and if the injury is complete or can not help you begin to investigate your prognosis and ask smart questions to your doctor.

Doctors assign different labels to spinal cord injuries according to the nature of those injuries.

Symptoms of a spinal cord injury

  • Difficult breathing; the need to be on a respirator
  • Problems with bladder and bowel function
  • Frequent infections; the probability of this increases if the patient is connected to a feeding or breathing tube
  • Pressure ulcers
  • Chronic pain
  • Headaches
  • Changes in mood or personality
  • Loss of libido or sexual function
  • Loss of fertility
  • Nerves pain
  • Chronic muscle pain

Treatment

Unlike many other injuries, the most important component of spinal cord injury treatment begins even before it reaches the doctor.

Staying immobile, avoiding moving your spine and requesting emergency care can increase your chances of surviving, while minimizing the long-term effects of your injury.

From there, the doctors will concentrate on stabilizing it, since the first hours after a spinal cord injury are fundamental for the survival of a patient.

Help with breathing, a collar to keep your neck still, blood transfusions and other procedures to treat your immediate symptoms may be necessary.

Thereafter, your doctor will work with you and your family to develop a detailed plan to address your injuries.

Each family and each injury are different, but treatment for a spinal cord injury may involve:

  • Take care to address, but not treat, your immediate symptoms. For example, a ventilator can help you breathe and a feeding tube can help you eat if you can not.
  • Palliative care to help you feel more comfortable. If you have problems with insomnia or chronic pain, your doctor may prescribe medications to help you.
  • Changes in lifestyle, such as a healthier diet or quitting smoking.
  • Physiotherapy to help re train the brain and the body, many survivors of spinal cord injuries can regain significant mobility with physiotherapy.
  • Family and individual counseling to help you cope with the pain and stress of life with a spinal cord injury.
  • Surgery as necessary to correct health problems related to injuries.