Christopher Reeve & Spinal Cord Injury (cont.)

Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal cord injuries, such as the one Mr. Reeve suffered, are due to trauma. The trauma may act in one of two ways to injure the spinal cord. It may directly damage cells within the spinal cord. Or the injury may sever the nerve tracts that relay signals up and down the spinal cord.

The most common types of spinal cord injury are contusion and compression of the cord. Contusion is essentially a bruise of the spinal cord. Compression of the spinal cord is caused by pressure upon it.

Other types of spinal cord injuries include lacerations (severing or tearing of some nerve fibers, such as damage caused by a gun shot wound), and the central cord syndrome (specific damage to the corticospinal tracts of the cervical region of the spinal cord).

Severe spinal cord injuries often cause paralysis with loss of control over voluntary muscle movement and loss of sensation and reflex function below the point of the injury, including sometimes, as in Mr. Reeve's case, loss of autonomic activity such as breathing and other activities such as bowel and bladder control.

Other problems such as pain or hypersensitivity to stimuli, muscle spasms, and sexual dysfunction may develop over time. Spinal cord patients are also prone to develop secondary medical problems, such as lung infections, bladder infections, and pressure sores such as the one of Mr. Reeve's that was infected.

After a Spinal Cord Injury

Advances in emergency care and rehabilitation now permit many more people with spinal cord injuries to survive. However, ways to reduce the extent of the injury and for restoring function are still limited.

Immediate treatment for acute spinal cord injuries includes techniques to relieve cord compression and prompt drug therapy with corticosteroids (cortisone-like drugs such as methylprednisolone) to minimize cell damage. Stabilization of the vertebrae of the spine may be done to prevent further injury.

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