Spinal cord injuries are serious and have lasting impacts. This is one of the most dangerous bone fractures in bone diseases in the world. If you or someone close to you has incurred in a spinal cord injury due to an automobile accident, you may want to check out these facts to better understand the spinal cord and how injuries of this nature can affect the body.
What is the spinal cord?
The spinal cord, along with the brain, makes up the central nervous system. It contains a series of interconnected bones, known as vertebrae, running from the base of the brain to the low back that forms a protective column around nerves. Collectively, this is called the spinal column. The spinal nerves or neurons transmit messages from the brain to different parts of the body to execute a function or receive a feeling or sensation, such as telling your legs to move. The spinal nerves are responsible for movement and sensation in the body. There are three parts of the spine: the cervical spine, the thoracic spine and the lumbar spine. Each has a connection to different nerves and areas of the body.
Spinal Cord Injury
If the spinal cord is injured, this may interfere with the nerve’s ability to process and transmit those messages from the brain to the body as mentioned above. Thus, such an injury can cause a loss of mobility or sensation.
Depending on the severity of the spinal cord injury and the type of damage, the impact on the victim can vary. If the site of injury is lower in the spinal column, the damage tends to be less severe.
Injuries fall into two categories. The first is a complete injury, which means the loss of all motor function and sensation below the place of damage, and which impacts both sides of the body equally. Secondly, the incomplete injury means only some function and/or sensation has been lost. An example of an incomplete injury would be the ability to move one leg but not the other or to feel sensation in a leg, but with limited or no movement.
Spinal Cord Injury Caused By Car Accidents
One of the most common causes of spinal cord injury is automobile accidents. Car crashes account for more than a third to nearly half of the spinal cord injuries, according to various sources, and the effects can vary depending on the accident and points of impact.
A car accident can result in sudden trauma to the spine. This injury can come in the form of a fracture, dislocation, or compression to one or more of the vertebrae in the spinal column. The spinal cord, vertebra, ligaments, or disks may be damaged.
Neck or cervical injury can result in quadriplegia, which is paralysis of all four limbs. Quadriplegia is a complete injury and can negatively impact lifespan and quality of life. The victim may not be able to breathe without the assistance of a machine or control his/her bowels or bladder. A cervical injury is the most severe because, as noted above, it is the highest section of the spine.
If the damage affects the mid-spinal column, commonly referred to as the thoracic spine, may negatively impact nerves connected to the chest, back, pelvis, abdomen, and legs. Paralysis of the legs and lower body, paraplegia, may occur with this kind of injury. The high impact of an automobile collision can cause distracting, agonizing pain in the back which prevents the ability to focus on anything else. Lesser degrees of injury can include numbness in the legs or moderate back pain. These are incomplete injuries.
Damage to the lumbar spine, the bottommost section of the spine, can cause problems in the legs and hips. While the injury is not life-threatening, those suffering from lumbar spine injuries may experience sciatica, tingling, or numbness in the legs to the feet; bowel or bladder dysfunction; and muscle weakness.
Spinal cord injury may not appear immediately. Signs may take days or weeks after an accident to manifest. Victims can experience inflammation, swelling, fluid buildup, and bleeding around the spinal cord for some time after the initial impact, for which they should go a see doctor as soon as they notice any changes or issues arising.
Spinal Cord Injury Treatment
There is no cure for spinal cord injury. However, depending on the severity, the effects of the injury can be addressed through multiple treatments including medication, prostheses, steroid therapy, physical therapy and, simply, time.
After certain periods, swelling and inflammation may lessen to reduce the effects of injury and pain. There are medications that if administered within the first few hours of injury can help to reduce inflammation and limit damage to the nerves. Other medications that may be prescribed by a doctor will aid with pain management, spasms, bladder control or sexual dysfunction.
Surgery may also be required to ease pain and remove bone fragments, herniated disks and fractured vertebrae, which may be compressing the spine. After surgery, the patient may experience less pain, increased range of motion, or heightened sensation once the compression on the spine is alleviated.
Rehabilitation is also crucial in starting the road to recovery. A rehabilitation team can include a physical therapist, occupational therapist and a physiatrist, a doctor who focuses on physical medicine or spinal cord injuries, among other team members. Physical therapy will help with regaining strength and mobility. Activities and exercises practiced regularly can improve the condition and, in some cases, nearly reverse the effects of the injury. Patients also work on redeveloping motor skills and learning adaptive techniques to carry out daily tasks such as using the bathroom or getting dressed.
Patients with severe injuries require assistance permanently, while those with mild injury can continue normal activities but may have to make minor adjustments to their lifestyle.
In addition to working with doctors and therapists, consulting with a lawyer is also important regarding a spinal cord injury caused by an auto accident. If another driver is at fault, an injury attorney can help to recover treatment costs, damage expenses, lost wages and disability from the individual(s) responsible for the car accident.