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Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Spinal Cord Injuries

Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal Cord Injuries are, hands down, the most common type of injury, and around 450,000 people alone in the US live with an SCI. However, even though SCI is very common and widespread, it is also surrounded by confusion and wrong information. Many people have limited knowledge about the problem, let alone know how to manage it. This article will help you to understand the ten things you didn't know about spinal cord injuries and tips to manage spinal injury.

1. What is Spinal Cord?

The spinal cord is the continuation of the central nervous system (CNS) of the body, consisting of the brain and the long tubular structure of nervous tissues. It starts at the bottom of the brain stem (at the medulla oblongata area) and ends in the lower back as it narrows into a cone called the conus medullaris.

2. What is Spinal Cord Injury?

Any damage to the spinal canal or the spinal nerves that alters the strength, sensation, and functioning of the spinal cord and other body parts permanently is known as a spinal cord injury or SCI. Unlike any other type of injury, spinal nerve damage may lead to physical, emotional, and social stress. Although it is still not plausible for researchers and medical experts to repair spine damage completely, they are hopeful.

Meanwhile, patients with back injuries are often aided by rehabilitation, management, and prevention of SCI.

3. Symptoms of Spinal Injuries in Adults

The symptoms of spinal damage depend on the completeness of the spinal cord injury. A complete spinal injury renders the patient paralyzed completely. In such a condition, the person loses all the ability to control movement below the spinal cord. Whereas in an incomplete spinal injury, only the motor function strength below the affected area is lost.

In simpler terms, if the nerves below the injury site cannot communicate at all with the brain, it is called complete spinal cord transection. Similarly, when the cord can partially convey some messages to the brain, it is called partial or incomplete spinal cord transection.

Signs and Symptoms of SCI

4. What are three key risk factors for a Back Injury?

A traumatic spinal cord injury may result from an accident and can happen to anybody; however, some factors may increase your chances of sustaining an injury to the spine. These risk factors include -

  • Male Anatomy- Men are more likely to sustain a back injury than women. Experts opine that men account for approximately 80% of all SCI cases. 
  • Old Age- With time, the human body starts to degenerate. Aging leads the disk between the vertebrae to wear off and shrink. The spinal cord narrows over time, and this causes back pain and loss of movement in older people.
  • Joint Disorder - A person with Arthritis or osteoporosis is likely to get their spinal cord injured more easily.

5. What are the levels of Spinal Cord Injuries?

Spinal cord damage leads to different degrees of paralysis. There are two levels of Spinal Cord Transection -

  • Quadriplegia - It is the paralysis that has resulted from an illness or injury. In this condition, the patient may experience partial or total loss of use of all four limbs and torso. 
  • Paraplegia- It is an impairment in motor or sensory function of the lower extremities. It is a greek word for half-stricken. It may result from a spinal injury or a congenital condition affecting the neural components of the spinal canal. The regions affected in paraplegia can either be the thoracic, lumbar, or sacral regions.

6. What Causes Spinal Cord Injuries?

There can be plenty of different reasons for the occurrence of a spinal problem. The most common causes of spinal injury are -

  • Car and Motorbike Accidents - Road accidents are a major reason for spine problems. Every year motor vehicle accidents cause half of the SCI cases. · Violent Activities- Knife wounds, gunshot wounds, and other violent activities lead to serious spine injuries. 
  • Falls- Falling from a height or into a very shallow pit can also lead to a permanent spine problem. 
  • Sports Injury- Many people with active lifestyles suffer from spine problems. Sports injuries can lead to permanent paralysis or backache.
  • Diseases- Health complications such as Arthritis and cancer can lead to pain and inflammation in the spine, which can further result in spinal cord injuries. 
  • Alcohol- A person with an abnormal alcohol consumption habit is more likely to get their spine injured. It is because alcohol slows the brain and makes the coordination and balance strength of the body poor.

7. Complications of Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal Injuries can lead to serious health consequences, such as -

  • Poor Bladder Control - The bladder keeps storing the urine in the kidney, but the brain cannot control the bladder due to a lack of proper communication between the spinal nerves and the brain. 
  • UTI- This sudden change in the bladder strength can increase the chances of Urinary Tract Infections. It can further lead to the formation of kidney stones. 
  • Improper Bowel Movement- Although your stomach and intestines work fine even after injury, they might alter the bowel movement. Eating high-fiber foods can help in regulating the bowel. 
  • Skin sensation- Right below the nervous level of your injury, you may have lost partial or complete sense. Thus, the skin is unable to send messages to the brain. When it experiences pressure or a temperature change, it can make your body prone to pressure sores. Continual change in sleeping and sitting positions may help. 
  • Circulation Control- The spine injury may cause low blood pressure. These increase your chances of developing blood clots such as vein thrombosis. It may further give rise to fatal health concerns like autonomic hyperreflexia. 
  • Respiratory Concerns- Spinal injury can cause trouble in breathing and coughing properly. If the damage affects the abdominal and chest muscles, the chances are that the diaphragm and abdomen have also suffered respiratory problems. If the patient has a thoracic and cervical spinal injury, you may develop pneumonia or other lung diseases. 
  • Overall Fitness- Weight loss problems and muscle atrophy are most common after an SCI. Limited mobility can result in a sedentary lifestyle. Obesity, heart ailments, and diabetes are also some health issues related to spinal injury. 
  • Sexual Well Being- Sex life is also hampered after a traumatic spinal injury. Many men notice changes in erection and ejaculation. Similarly, women may experience a lack of lubrication. 
  • Depression- Dealing with sudden and life-altering changes after a back injury may lead to people slipping into depression.

8. Treatment of SCI

Unfortunately, it is not plausible to reverse the damage caused to the spine. Medical experts and practitioners are continuously working on new techniques and treatments. A person who has recently experienced a spine injury may get intensive medical care, including orthopedic, neurological, and physiological therapies. Such professionals may recommend -

  • Medications- Certain medications may be prescribed by your doctor to keep the pain in check. The medicines are taken for long durations to help the patient in minimizing pain and function properly. 
  • Therapies - Acupuncture, laser therapy, physical therapy, electric stimulation therapy, etc., are common types of non-surgical treatments for spine problems. 
  • Surgery - In certain cases, surgery is deemed necessary to remove portions of bones, some external objects, herniated disks, or fractured vertebrae, which causes compression to the spine. A patient may have to undergo surgery to stabilize the spine and prevent future pain or deformity.

9. How can you manage Spinal Injury?

Management of traumatic spine injury is crucial for a healthy and active lifestyle. Many patients spent their lives under the wrong impression that their life has spoilt after sustaining a spine injury. It is not true; one can manage an SCI with a little diligence, patience, and the right techniques.

  • Rehabilitation: Your doctor and a rehabilitation psychologist, a nurse, and other therapists will help you rediscover new ways of living life with a spinal cord injury. In the initial phase of the rehabilitation, the focus is on maintaining your healthy muscles. These rehab therapies help in refining your motor skills. It also aids in developing new techniques. Spinal injuries often lead to an extreme lack of independence and regain freedom rehabilitation turns out to be a great and effective method. Rehabilitation includes the use of good quality equipment, technology, fitness activities, etc.
  • Urological Supplies: Sleep is one of the most important aspects of living a healthy lifestyle. After sustaining a spinal injury, it becomes difficult to sleep properly. It may happen because of several reasons, but the common concern that patients face is overnight incontinence. To cope with this, patients are often advised to use urinary catheters and other urological supplies. Urological products help in managing leakage during nighttime. These include drainage bags, incontinence pads, and briefs, perineal skin care products, etc.
 
  • Respiratory Aids: Since spine problems aggravate respiratory health concerns, using respiratory aids for proper breathing becomes essential. Oxygen therapies, nebulizers and compressors, and many more aids can help you live a happy and prosperous life despite spinal transection.
 
  • Wheelchairs: With the onset of new technological advancements, it has become easier for bedridden patients and those with limited mobility to live comfortably. There are specifically designed wheelchairs for traveling through beaches and rough terrains. Subsequently, modern mobility aids like lift chairs, up walkers, and standers come in different variations to suit individual needs.
 
  • Daily Living Aids: Daily living products help people with reduced mobility and flexibility to maintain their independence at home on a day-to-day basis. There are many assistive devices for those who find it difficult to perform personal tasks at home or outdoors because of limited limb functions. The daily aids are for those with reaching and grasping capabilities—additionally, these tools provide support to individuals with foot and knee disabilities.
  • Gait Training: Proper gait training helps an individual with motor disabilities walk without assistance. A gait trainer is fashioned to offer support and postural alignment with more balance and weight-bearing than a rollator or walker. It aids the user in assisted walking or standing with maximum independence.
  • Stimulation Aids: Tactile Stimulation activates the nerve signals below the skin and informs the body of different touch sensations. It relates to the sense of touch and texture. Many tactile stimulation products are proven to regain or maintain gross motor skills and muscle movements by providing proprioceptive feedback to the patient. It does not happen overnight, so patient compliance to therapy can be the key to success.

10. Prevention of Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury

Certain preventive measures can save a person from the risks of sustaining a traumatic spinal injury. All you require to do to be safe is to watch out for potential dangers. Take precautions to be on the safer side.

  • Drive Safe: Avoid driving in haste, wear seat belts and refrain from driving after alcohol consumption. Car accidents may be fatal; it is always better to be late than sorry.
  • Refrain From Alcohol: Alcohol consumption worsens the capabilities of your brain to convey important messages. Prefer limiting alcohol intake at all times. Avoid Falls: Use stools and stairs to reach out to objects in high places. For children, use non-slip floor mats and tiles for bathrooms.
  • Sports Injury Prevention: You can use sports injury prevention aids to minimize any risks of sprains and fractures during traumatic sports

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