Spinal Cord

Spinal Cord Injury

Stretching, bruising, compression, severance, or laceration, can all cause injury to the spinal cord resulting in dysfunction. Fracture or shattering of the vertebral bones or intervertebral discs may lead to the puncture of the spinal cord with resulting loss of feeling and function in parts of the body. The degree of functional loss will vary according to the degree of injury, with some losing partial sensation in the hands or feet, and some becoming paralysed, either wholly or partially below the site of injury to the spinal cord. Pain due to spinal cord injury can also occur, and in conditions such as fibromyalgia, cervical arthritis, and other chronic pain disorders the signals can become confused with little or no inhibition of the sensation or rapid motor neuron firing causing fatigue and wear of the muscles. Neck and back pain can occur alongside loss of reflex action, bladder control, and motor function. As the cervical spine connects the rest of the spinal cord to the brain, any injury to the neck that compromises the spinal cord runs the risk of causing dysfunction in the rest of the body below that point, making cervical spinal cord injury extremely dangerous.

Spinal Cord Injury
In this image we see how injury to specific
levels of the spine can cause varying degrees of
nerve damage and paralysis











Spinal Shock

Spinal shock can occur, which is usually only temporary (24-48hrs), from an acute spinal injury. This may lead to a temporary loss of functional capacity and sensation. Neurogenic shock from spinal injury may last for weeks, however, and the resulting loss of motor function often leads to muscle atrophy through disuse during this time, with physical rehabilitation necessary to recover muscle strength. The cervical spine is a common site of spinal cord injury, often because of the complex nature of this area and little room for accommodating inflammation or blunt force trauma. The lumbar spine also incurs injuries between L1-L5 more than other spinal cord regions.

Other causes of spinal cord trauma include infections, ischaemia, and compression from tumor growth or fractured vertebrae. Diagnosis through MRI scanning is usual, along with functional tests and physical examination. Some conditions may be alleviated with simple rest, the use of anti-inflammatory medications, or analgesics as the injury heals. In other cases, spinal surgery may be required to remove fracture debris, correct herniated disc in neck or other areas of the spine through a discectomy, or to remove spinal cord tumors. A laminectomy may be performed in order to give the spinal cord more room. It is not always possible to treat spinal cord injuries and some paralysis and loss of sensation becomes permanent.

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Last Updated: 2/02/2011