Spinal Cord Injury | Tampa General Hospital


Spinal Cord Injury 

Any damage to the spinal cord or the nerves at the end of the spinal canal is a spinal cord injury. 

A spinal cord injury of any severity can greatly impact a person’s life. The spinal cord is a complex bundle of nerve fibers that resides within the protected space inside the spinal column. The spinal cord plays a critical role in the body’s ability to function, as every nerve in the body can be traced back to it. Injury to the spinal cord can cause permanent damage to the body and its ability to carry out necessary tasks. There are two kinds of spinal cord injuries: complete and incomplete. When a complete injury occurs, a person loses all ability to move and feel below the level of injury. An incomplete injury leaves a person with some function below the level of injury—though that function may be impaired. 

Spinal Cord Injury Causes 

Injury to the spinal cord can result from direct trauma to the nerves themselves or indirect trauma to the surrounding bones, soft tissue and vessels. Spinal cord injuries can be caused by: 

  • Slips or falls 
  • Motor vehicle accidents 
  • Sports injuries 
  • Diseases such as cancer or arthritis 

Spinal Cord Injury Symptoms 

Spinal cord injury symptoms can differ greatly depending on a variety of factors, including the location and severity of the injury. Some of the more common symptoms that occur due to spinal cord injuries include: 

  • Numbness, tingling or loss of sensation 
  • Loss of movement 
  • Pain or intense stinging sensation 
  • Impaired breathing 
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control 
  • Loss of balance 

Spinal Cord Injury Diagnosis 

Doctors may be able to rule out a spinal cord injury through careful inspection and examination, testing for sensory function and movement and by asking questions about the accident or event that caused the injury. Furthermore, if a patient isn't fully awake, or has obvious signs of weakness or neurological injury, emergency diagnostic tests may be needed such as: 

  • X-rays 
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan 
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) 

Spinal Cord Injury Treatment 

Currently, there is no way to reverse the damage caused by spinal cord injuries. However, there are a number of treatments aimed at promoting nerve cell regeneration and improving the function of a patient’s remaining nerves. Treatment for a spinal cord injury varies depending on each patient’s specific injury. However, the main kinds of treatment are: 

  • Surgery  
  • Rehabilitation  
  • Medication