Get answers to your Spine related questions.
Spinal cord injury; Compression of spinal cord; SCI; Cord compression
A spinal cord trauma is a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment to reduce the long-term effects. The time between the injury and treatment is a critical factor affecting the eventual outcome.
Corticosteroids, such as dexamethasone or methylprednisolone, are used to reduce swelling that may damage the spinal cord. If spinal cord compression is caused by a mass (such as a hematoma or bony fragment) that can be removed or reduced your spinal nerves are completely destroyed, paralysis may improve. Ideally, corticosteroids should begin as soon as possible after the injury.
Surgery may be needed to:
Bedrest may be needed to allow the bones of the spine, which bears most of the weight of the body, to heal.
Spinal traction may be recommended. This can help keep the spine from moving. The skull may be held in place with tongs (metal braces placed in the skull and attached to traction weights or to a harness on the body). The spine braces may need to be worn for a long time.
The health care team will also provide information on muscle spasms, care of the skin, and bowel and bladder dysfunction.
Extensive physical therapy, occupational therapy, and other rehabilitation therapies are often required after the acute injury has healed. Rehabilitation helps the person cope with disability that results from spinal cord injury.
Muscle spasticity can be relieved with medications taken by mouth or injected into the spinal canal. Botox injections into the muscles may also be helpful. Pain killers (analgesics), muscle relaxers, and physical therapy are used to help control pain.
For organizations that provide support and additional information, see spinal injury resources.
Paralysis and loss of sensation of part of the body are common. This includes total paralysis or numbness and varying degrees of movement or sensation loss. Death is possible, particularly if there is paralysis of the breathing muscles.
How well a person does depends on the level of injury. Injuries near the top of the spine result in more extensive disability than do injuries low in the spine.
Recovery of some movement or sensation within 1 week usually means the person has a good chance of recovering more function, although this may take 6 months or more. Losses that remain after 6 months are more likely to be permanent.
Routine bowel care frequently takes one hour or more on a daily basis.
A majority of people with spinal cord injury must perform bladder catheterization from time to time.
Modifications of the person's living environment are usually required.
Most people with spinal cord injury are wheelchair- or bed-bound, or have impaired mobility requiring a variety of assistive devices.
The following are possible complications of a spinal cord injury:
People living at home with spinal cord injury should do the following to prevent complications:
Call your health care provider if injury to the back or neck occurs. Call 911 if there is any loss of movement or sensation. This is a medical emergency!
Management of spinal cord injury begins at the site of an accident with paramedics trained in immobilizing the injured spine to prevent further damage to the nervous system.
Someone suspected of having a spinal cord injury should NOT be moved without immobilization unless there is an immediate threat.
Evans RW, Wilberger JE, Bhatia S. Traumatic disorders. In: Goetz CG, ed. Textbook of Clinical Neurology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 51.
Ling GSF. Traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 422.
Tator CH. Recognition and management of spinal cord injuries in sports and recreation. Neurol Clin. 2008 Feb;26(1):79-88; viii.
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