According to the United Spinal Association, roughly 17,700 Americans sustain spinal injuries yearly. Interestingly, 78% are men with an average age of 43. Spinal cord injuries can be incredibly damaging, leading to paralysis or other loss of movement.
Considering the physical, mental, emotional, and financial ramifications a spinal cord injury may have, it’s important to understand the severity and possible damages that can result from one. In our article, we discuss key facts about spinal cord injuries as spinal cord injury awareness month approaches.
What Is a Spinal Cord Injury?
The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that transmit signals between the brain and the rest of the body. A spinal cord injury occurs when there has been damage to any part of the spinal cord or the nerves at the end of the spinal canal (cauda equina). This damage can result in a loss of sensation or movement.
Spinal cord injuries are classified as either complete or incomplete. A complete spinal cord injury results in a loss of all sensation and movement below the level of the injury. An incomplete injury means some feeling and movement is retained below the injured area.
What Causes Spinal Cord Injuries?
There are many causes of spinal cord injuries. However, the most common based on data from the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC) are:
- Motor vehicle accidents: Approximately 40% of all spinal cord injuries are caused by car accidents, motorcycle accidents, and truck accidents.
- Falls: Falls are the second leading cause of spinal cord injuries, accounting for about 22%.
- Violent acts: Gunshot wounds or stabbings account for approximately 16% of all spinal cord injuries.
- Sports injuries: Playing contact sports such as football, hockey, and wrestling can lead to spinal cord injuries.
As you can see, most spinal cord injuries result from accidents. Therefore, taking the necessary precautions when participating in sports or when driving is essential.
Who is Most at Risk for a Spinal Cord Injury?
Although anyone can sustain a spinal cord injury, some groups are more at risk than others. For example, males are roughly six times more likely to suffer a spinal cord injury than females. This is partly due to the types of activities and occupations men are more likely to participate in.
Other groups that have an increased risk of sustaining a spinal cord injury include:
- Young adults: People between the ages of 16 and 30 are most likely to suffer a spinal cord injury. This is likely because this age group is more likely to participate in high-risk activities.
- Older adults: Although people over 65 make up only 8.5% of the population, they account for a large proportion of all spinal cord injuries. The key contributing factor is the increased fragility of the bones and muscles in this age group.
While anyone may suffer from a spinal cord injury, those mentioned above have a higher risk of significant damage. Regardless of whether you fall into either category, staying aware of your spinal cord health is essential after a personal injury accident.
What Are the Symptoms of a Spinal Cord Injury?
The symptoms of a spinal cord injury can vary depending on the severity of the injury. However, some common symptoms include:
- Loss of sensation or feeling below the level of the injury
- Loss of movement below the injury
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Exaggerated reflex activities or spasms below the level of the injury
- Changes in sexual function, sexual sensitivity, and fertility
- Chronic pain or discomfort
If you notice one or more of these symptoms, it’s best to get evaluated. Early treatment can significantly improve the long-term prognosis.
What Are the Complications of a Spinal Cord Injury?
In addition to the symptoms listed above, spinal cord injuries can lead to several complications. These include:
- Bone fractures: When the bones in the spinal column are broken, there’ll be more pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. This can cause even more damage to the spine.
- Muscle Degeneration: When the muscles below the level of the injury are not used, they can begin to deteriorate (this process is called atrophy).
- Pressure Sores: Pressure sores, also called bed sores, can develop when there is prolonged pressure on the skin. They usually occur when someone is confined to a bed or wheelchair.
- Respiratory problems: Spinal cord injuries can cause paralysis of the muscles used for breathing. This can lead to respiratory infections and other complications.
- Urinary tract infections: Spinal cord injuries can cause paralysis of the muscles used for urination. This can lead to urinary tract infections and other complications.
Considering how these complications impact your life, you must seek immediate treatment if you suspect you may have a spinal cord injury.
How Are Spinal Cord Injuries Diagnosed?
If you think you have sustained a spinal cord injury, seek medical attention immediately. Doctors will use a variety of tests to diagnose a spinal cord injury, including:
- Medical history and physical examination: Doctors will ask about your symptoms and how the injury occurred. They will also do a physical exam to look for signs of injury.
- Imaging tests: X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs can be used to visualize the bones, muscles, and nerves.
- Neurological tests: These tests can assess the function of the spinal cord and nerves.
After testing, you’ll receive the prognosis and advice on the ideal treatment options.
How Are Spinal Cord Injuries Treated?
The treatment for a spinal cord injury will vary depending on the severity of the injury. However, some common treatments include:
- Medications: Pain medications, muscle relaxants, and other drugs can be used to relieve symptoms
- Surgery: Surgery may be necessary to stabilize the spine or repair damage to the spinal cord
- Rehabilitation: Physical therapy, occupational therapy, and other forms of rehabilitation can help you regain function and independence
In many cases, treatment of spinal cord injuries will involve rehabilitation and medication. If it’s severe, you may also have to undergo surgery.
How Can I Prevent Spinal Cord Injuries?
You can do several things to reduce your risk of sustaining a spinal cord injury. These include:
- Wearing a seatbelt when driving or riding in a car
- Using proper lifting techniques to avoid straining your back
- Avoiding dangerous activities that could lead to a fall or other injury
If you or someone you know has sustained a spinal cord injury, it is vital to seek medical attention immediately. With proper treatment, many people with spinal cord injuries can regain function and live full, productive lives.
Contact the Experienced Utah Personal Injury Lawyers at Feller and Wendt, LLC
Aside from the health implications, spinal cord injuries can turn your life upside down. It may leave you unable to work, with recurring medical bills, and may affect your ability to interact and share key moments with family. That’s why it’s essential to seek damages for your injuries to ease such burdens.
At Feller and Wendt, LLC we offer legal services to personal injury victims. We have highly professional and experienced personal injury lawyers ready to help you get justice. Call us now on (801) 499-5060 or fill out our contact form to speak with a personal injury attorney.