When we here the phrase spinal cord injury, our thoughts immediately flip to a person in a bed or wheelchair, paralyzed from the neck or waist down. The reality, however, is often quite different. Not all injuries to the spine result in long-term or permanent paraplegia or quadriplegia. But the spinal column is the conduit for our body's central nervous system to and from the brain. That means that every injury to the spine must be taken seriously, for both immediate treatment and long-term rehabilitation.
What does medical science say?
According to the Mayo Clinic, a spinal cord injury includes any type of injury to the spinal cord, itself, or nerves leading out of the cauda equina, the canal running through the vertebrae making up the spinal column. While severing or severely pinching the cord will generally result in paralysis of some part of the body, any damage to the spinal column's vertebrae, ligaments or disks can lead to long-term loss of strength and motor function.
What are some symptoms?
Following a traumatic blow to the body, such as a car accident, a person may not immediately suffer the effects of a spinal cord injury. Some symptoms may take some time to surface, as muscle aches and injuries to other areas of the body begin to sort themselves out.
Here are some general symptoms the Mayo Clinic advises to be on guard for following an accident of any kind:
- General loss of motor skills and movement. This can be either immediate, as in the case of paralysis, or come on gradually, as the symptoms of the pinched cord worsen.
- Reduced sensation, including an inability to feel heat or cold. It may also mean reduced sense of touch in highly sensitive areas such as fingertips.
- Spasms, including twitching of the arms, legs and fingers.
- Burning and stinging pain in a specific area of the body effected by the specific location of the nerve damage to the spinal cord.
- Coughing and difficulty with normal breathing
- Uncontrol of the bowels or bladder
Don't diagnose yourself -- see a doctor
It is important to see a doctor for a thorough check up after any kind of accident that resulted in a traumatic event to the body. But there are other causes of spinal cord injuries that may not be immediately attributable to an accident. Some patients report symptoms starting after particular surgical procedures. Other spine injuries may be the result of surgeries to remove tumors in the spine or neck area and degeneration of the vertebrae, leading to misalignment.
Because spine injuries can worsen over time, it is best not to wait to see whether a symptom will clear up on its own. If you sense there is something wrong, even if you can't pinpoint why or where, get checked out.
The Mayo Clinic advises, "The time between injury and treatment can be critical in determining the extent and severity of complications and the possible extent of expected recovery."