Spinal Cord Injury - Treatment

What was the treatment for your spinal cord injury?

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How is a spinal cord injury treated?

The first step in treatment of a suspected spinal cord injury is to verify the patient is breathing and the heart is beating. A spinal cord injury in the upper neck can cause a loss of control of normal breathing. This may require the placement of a breathing tube and use of a ventilator.

The next step in treatment of a spinal cord injury is immobilization. This often occurs at the time of injury prior to being transported to the hospital. Emergency medical technicians may place the patient in a cervical collar or on a backboard to help prevent the spine from moving. If the patient has a spinal cord injury, further movement of the spine could lead to further damage.

After a spinal cord injury is diagnosed, the patient might be started on a high dose of steroids. This could help decrease the amount of damage to the spinal cord by reducing inflammation and swelling. There are risks associated with using steroids for spinal cord injury. The patient's doctor can help decide if steroids are appropriate. The use of steroids is only beneficial if they are started within eight hours of the time of injury.

Next the patient may be placed in traction or a halo device around the head to try to stabilize the spine and prevent further damage. Many cases of spinal cord injury are treated with surgery. There are two major goals of surgery.

  • The first goal is to relieve any pressure on the spinal cord. This could involve removing portions of the vertebrae that have broken and are compressing the spinal cord. If the spinal cord is being compressed by tumor, infection or severe arthritis, surgery can be performed to reduce the amount of compression.
  • The second major goal of surgery for spinal cord injury is to stabilize the spine. If the vertebrae are weakened from fracture, tumor or infection, they may not be capable of supporting the normal weight from the body and protecting the spinal cord. A combination of metal screws, rods and plates may be necessary to help hold the vertebrae together and stabilize them until the bones heal.

There are many potential complications related to spinal cord injury that may require specific treatment. These complications include:

  • urinary tract infections or urinary incontinence (inability to control the flow of urine),
  • bowel incontinence (inability to control bowel movements),
  • pressure sores,
  • infections in the lungs (pneumonia),
  • blood clots,
  • muscle spasms,
  • chronic pain, and
  • depression.

After the initial treatment and stabilization of patients with a spinal cord injury, much of the treatment is geared toward rehabilitation. This includes methods to help the patient maximize their function through physical and occupational therapy and the use of assistive devices.

Return to Spinal Cord Injury: Treatments and Rehabilitation

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