What is a spinal injury?

Spinal Cord injuries can cause serious trauma and in particularly severe cases can lead to potentially life altering symptoms or complications. This is because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body and is also responsible for sending messages from the brain to your limbs. When damaged this can affect the function of the entire body and brain.  The spinal cord also contains a cluster of nerves which are protected by the vertebrae of the spine. If the vertebrae get damaged it can lead to paralysis and loss of motor function.

Symptoms of a spinal cord injury

Depending on the severity of the injury, damage to the spinal cord can present a wide range of symptoms. These include weakness in the arms and or legs, decreased sensation in the back and legs. Loss of bladder or bowel control, severe or persistent pain in the back or neck and difficulty breathing.  The more severe the injury, the less chance there is of a full and complete recovery. There is currently no cure for spinal cord injuries, however rehabilitation and medical aids can help the recovery process and providing the injury isn’t too severe, they may allow the individual to lead a fulfilling and independent life.

Spinal cord injuries are usually categorised as complete or incomplete. In complete cases spinal cord injuries lead to the loss of all motor and sensory function below the injured area, whilst in incomplete cases, the individual may retain some function below the primary level of injury such as being able to move an arm or leg on one side.

Spinal cord

Emergency signs and symptoms

Emergency signs and symptoms of Spinal cord injury include Muscle weakness, loss of voluntary muscle movement or feeling in the chest, arms or legs, incontinence of loss of bowel control breathing problems. If you are presented with any of these symptoms you may need urgent medical care or assistance.

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When to get medical help

If you’ve suffered any kind of trauma to the spinal cord, you should seek immediate medical attention. Symptoms to look out for include extreme back pain or pressure in your lower neck, head or back, weakness, incoordination, or paralysis in any part of your body as well as numbness, tingling or loss of normal sensation. In particularly severe case spinal cord injury can be fatal which is why it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. Spinal injuries can affect the diaphragm which the body needs in order to breath.

You suspect someone has a back or neck injury

If you suspect someone may have a back or neck injury you should seek immediate help by calling emergency services. It is important not to try and move the person on your own, keep them still and place heavy towels or thick clothing on both sides of the neck to help hold the head and neck in place. Someone may have a potential neck or spine injury if they have been in a motor vehicle accident or had a fall from significant height. If there are more than two of you at the scene you can roll them into the recovery position providing it is safe to do so as it’s important to make sure their air passages are clear. If the individual has been playing some form of contact sport or been in a motorcycle accident you should also never remove their helmet if they are wearing one. If the person is unconscious at the scene, you should first make sure they are in the recovery position before anything else. Clearing the airways takes precedent over trying to avoid aggravating any potential injuries.

Brain and central nervous system

The spinal column plays a key role in the central nervous system connecting the brain to the rest of the body. The central nervous system fulfils 3 main roles throughout the body: sensory input, information processing and motor output. The nerves contained by the spinal column are responsible for transmitting from the brain to the rest of the body helping to control movement and sensory function.

Medical help spinal cord injury
Medical help spinal cord injury

Damaged Nerve Fibres

Damaged nerve fibres can result in a range of symptoms depending on which fibres are affected. Motor nerves regulate the muscles responsible for walking, talking and general movement. When these are damaged, it can lead to painful cramps, uncontrollable twitching, and muscle weakness. Sensory nerves on the other hand, are responsible for relaying sensory information to the rest of the body. If this group of nerves are damaged, you can experience trouble feeling pain or changes in temperature. It can also affect your sense of touch and feeling.

Common causes of Spinal Cord Injuries in UK

Spinal injuries can occur for all sorts of reasons. The leading causes of spinal cord injury in younger people are car accidents. Trauma injuries obtained through sporting events are another common cause, particularly in contact sports such as rugby or American football. Spinal injuries in the elderly are more commonly caused by falls or long-term chronic illnesses.

Medical help spinal cord injury
Medical help spinal cord injury

Complications of injury

Long term complications of spinal cord injury can vary greatly depending on the degree of trauma suffered. Many individuals who have experienced spinal injuries lose some form of bladder or bowel function and may experience sexual dysfunction. Spinal cord injuries can also lead to cardiovascular problems and heart defects as well as conditions such as osteoporosis and respiratory dysfunction.

Prevention of a spinal cord injury

Spinal cord injury can be prevented by always making sure you adhere to health and safety procedures when at work or when carrying out potentially hazardous activities, particularly if you work in construction or you have a job that involves some form of manual labour. You should also ensure that you always follow safety procedures when driving such as wearing a seatbelt at all times, avoiding distractions such as mobile phones, and making sure you don’t drive under the influence of alcohol or substances that could impair your driving. If you take part in contact sports or some other form of extreme sport, then you should also take care to always wear the correct safety equipment whether it’s a helmet or another piece of safety equipment.

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