A spinal cord injury occurs when a trauma affects the spinal cord. This can happen when the vertebrae that surround the spinal cord break, shatter or dislocate. The violent movement of the vertebrae can force a piece of the vertebrae, disc material or ligament to tear into the spinal cord tissue.
During most spinal traumas the spinal cord itself does not sever completely. Instead, the axons, nerve cells that carry signals from the brain to the body, are crushed or destroyed. The extent of the damage depends on how many of these axons are destroyed.
Classification of Injuries
The American Spinal Injury Association and the International Spinal Cord Injury Classification System classify spinal cord injuries in the following ways:
The treatment of a spinal cord injury depends on the severity of the injury. Doctors and therapists use the above system to help guide their treatment plan. No matter the severity of the injury treatment focuses on preventing further injury and helping people with spinal cord injuries return to an active and productive life.
Immediately following a spinal cord injury emergency personnel will work to:
The early stages of treatment include:
After the initial treatments are preformed and the patient is stable, ongoing care begins. The following basic care treatments should be performed in the weeks after a spinal cord injury:
A rehabilitation plan will be devised soon after the patient is stable. The following treatments are often used: