What is Spinal Cord Injury?
A spinal cord injury usually begins with a sudden, traumatic blow to the spine that fractures or dislocates vertebrae. The damage begins at the moment of injury when displaced bone fragments, disc material, or ligaments bruise or tear into spinal cord tissue. Most injuries to the spinal cord don't completely sever it. Instead, an injury is more likely to cause fractures and compression of the vertebrae, which then crush and destroy the axons, extensions of nerve cells that carry signals up and down the spinal cord between the brain and the rest of the body. An injury to the spinal cord can damage a few, many, or almost all of these axons. Some injuries will allow almost complete recovery. Others will result in complete paralysis.
Is there any treatment?
Improved emergency care for people with spinal cord injuries and aggressive treatment and rehabilitation can minimize damage to the nervous system and even restore limited abilities. Respiratory complications are often an indication of the severity of spinal cord injury About one-third of those with injury to the neck area will need help with breathing and require respiratory support. The steroid drug methylprednisolone appears to reduce the damage to nerve cells if it is given within the first 8 hours after injury. Rehabilitation programs combine physical therapies with skill-building activities and counseling to provide social and emotional support.
What is the prognosis?
Spinal cord injuries are classified as either complete or incomplete. An incomplete injury means that the ability of the spinal cord to convey messages to or from the brain is not completely lost. People with incomplete injuries retain some motor or sensory function below the injury. A complete injury is indicated by a total lack of sensory and motor function below the level of injury. People who survive a spinal cord injury will most likely have medical complications such as chronic pain and bladder and bowel dysfunction, along with an increased susceptibility to respiratory and heart problems. Successful recovery depends upon how well these chronic conditions are handled day to day.
What research is being done?
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) conducts spinal cord research in its laboratories at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and also supports additional research through grants to major medical institutions across the country. Advances in research are giving doctors and patients hope that repairing injured spinal cords is a reachable goal. Advances in basic research are also being matched by progress in clinical research, especially in understanding the kinds of physical rehabilitation that work best to restore function. Some of the more promising rehabilitation techniques are helping spinal cord injury patients become more mobile.
For more information
Christopher Reeve Foundation & Resource Center
636 Morris Turnpike Suite 3A
Short Hills, NJ 07078
Tel: 973-379-2690 800-225-0292
National Rehabilitation Information Center (NARIC)
4200 Forbes Boulevard Suite 202
Lanham, MD 20706-4829
Miami Project to Cure Paralysis/ Buoniconti Fund
P.O. Box 016960 R-48
Miami, FL 33101-6960
Tel: 305-243-6001 800-STANDUP (782-6387)
National Spinal Cord Injury Association
6701 Democracy Blvd. #300-9
Bethesda, MD 20817
Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA)
801 18th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006-3517
Tel: 202-USA-1300 (872-1300)
Spinal Cord Society
19051 County Highway 1
Fergus Falls, MN 56537
Tel: 218-739-5252 or 218-739-5261
Clearinghouse on Disability Information
Special Education & Rehabilitative Services Communications & Customer Service Team
550 12th Street, SW, Rm. 5133
Washington, DC 20202-2550
Tel: 202-245-7307 202-205-5637 (TTD)
National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR)
U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
400 Maryland Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20202-7100
Tel: 202-245-7460 202-245-7316 (TTY)
Source: National Institutes of Health (www.nih.gov)
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Top Spinal Cord Injury: Treatments and Rehabilitation Related Articles
baclofen (Gablofen, Lioresal)
Baclofen, (Gablofen, Lioresal, [Kemstro has been discontinued]) is a medication prescribed for the treatment of spasms of skeletal muscles, muscle rigidity, muscle clonus, and pain caused by disorders like multiple sclerosis. Side effects, drug interactions, warnings and precautions, and pregnancy safety information should be reviewed prior to taking any medication.
Broken BoneA broken bone is a fracture. There are different types of fractures, such as:
- vertebral compression,
- compound, and
Symptoms of a broken bone include pain at the site of injury, swelling, and bruising around the area of injury. Treatment of a fracture depends on the type and location of the injury.
CT Scan (Computerized Tomography)A CT scan is an X-ray procedure that combines many X-ray images with the aid of a computer to generate cross-sectional and three-dimensional images of internal organs and structures of the body. A CT scan is a low-risk procedure. Contrast material may be injected into a vein or the spinal fluid to enhance the scan.
Discogram (Discography)As we age, or become injured, the vertebral discs can become damaged and/or shrink, which causes pain. A discogram is used to determine if a particular vertebral disc is the source of pain. Discograms attempt to reproduce rather than remove pain to help determine if injury to a particular disc is the source of a person's pain. The information gathered from the discogram can lead to the diagnosis of a particular disc injury so the doctor can determine treatment options for relief of the pain.
Epidural Steroid InjectionAn epidural steroid injection is a common procedure to treat spinal nerve irritation that causes chronic low back pain and/or leg pain (radicular pain). Disc herniation is also treated with epidural steroid injections. Epidural injections are also used to treat nerve compression in the neck (cervical radiculopathy).The procedure is quick and simple.
Didronel (etidronate)Etidronate (Didronel) is a medication prescribed for the treatment of Paget's disease and preventing heterotopic ossification. Off-label uses include the treatment of hypercalcemia associated with cancer, prevention of postmenopausal osteoporosis and steroid-induced osteoporosis. Review side effects, drug interactions, warnings and precautions, and pregnancy and breastfeeding safety information prior to taking any medication.
Bowel Incontinence (Fecal Incontinence)Bowel or fecal incontinence refers to the loss of voluntary control of stool, or bowel movements. The condition can include partial incontinence, in which a person loses only a small amount of liquid waste, to complete incontinence, in which the entire bowel movement cannot be controlled. Diet changes and elimination of certain medications can help patients to regain bowel control. Treatment involves a combination of medication, biofeedback, and exercise.
Fractured Spine PictureFractures of the spine (vertebra) can cause severe "band-like" pain that radiates around from the back to the side of the body. See a picture of Fractured Spine and learn more about the health topic.
HypothermiaHyothermia or extreme exposure to cold can be classified as either accidental hypothermia (unintentional cold exposure) and intentional hypothermia (generally induced for a medical procedure). Hypothermia is caused by exposure to extremely cold temperatures. Risk factors for hypothermia include cold exposure and/or certain medical conditions. Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering; increased heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure; apathy, confusion, slurred speech, no reflexes, and dilated pupils. Medical attention is generally necessary to treat hypothermia.
Methylprednisolone (Medrol, Depo-Medrol, Solu-Medrol) is a medication prescribed to patients to suppress inflammation from a variety of conditions and diseases. Side effects, drug interactions, dosage, and pregnancy safety information should be reviewed prior to taking this medication.
MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan)MRI (or magnetic resonance imaging) scan is a radiology technique which uses magnetism, radio waves, and a computer to produce images of body structures. MRI scanning is painless and does not involve X-ray radiation. Patients with heart pacemakers, metal implants, or metal chips or clips in or around the eyes cannot be scanned with MRI because of the effect of the magnet.
prednisolone (Orapred, Pediapred)Prednisolone (Flo-Pred, Pediapred, Orapred, Orapred ODT) is a corticosteroid prescribed to achieve prompt suppression of inflammation due to inflammatory and allergic conditions (for example, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, gout, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, hay fever, types of dermatitis, and many others. Side effects, drug interactions, dosage, storage, and pregnancy safety information should be reviewed prior to taking this medication.
Stem CellsStem cells are referred to as undifferentiated cells because they have not yet committed to a developmental path to form specific organ tissue. There are a variety of stem cell types, including:
- adult peripheral blood,
- umbilical cord, and
- induced pluripotent stem cells.
- heart disease,
- Parkinson's disease,
- spinal cord injury,
- diabetes mellitus,
- amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,
- arthritis, and
What Are the Risks of Vertebroplasty?Percutaneous vertebroplasty (PVP) is a procedure used to treat and stabilize vertebral (spinal) fractures. The process involves using a type of imaging called fluoroscopy, which provides X-rays in real time, to enable a doctor to inject a concrete-like fast-setting polymer into the damaged vertebrae.
What Drugs Are Used in Rapid Sequence Intubation?Rapid sequence intubation (RSI) is the administration of a strong anesthetic agent followed by a rapidly acting paralytic agent (all within one minute) to make the patient unconscious. Drugs used in rapid sequence intubation (RSI) include potent anesthetic agents (propofol, ketamine, etc.), muscle relaxants or paralytic agents, and pharmacological adjuncts (fentanyl, lidocaine, etc.).
What is Anterior Cervical Discectomy Used For?Anterior cervical discectomy (ACD) is a procedure to remove a severely damaged or diseased neck bone (cervical vertebrae). There are three main types of anterior cervical discectomy surgeries, one without adding any medical implants, one in which the vertebrae is removed and a bone graft is implanted, and one with a graft and stabilizing metal plate.