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Understanding Common Spinal Injuries and Treatment Options

Spinal cord injuries are some of the most serious types of injuries a person can sustain. If you’re one of the 54 out of every one million Americans who sustain a spinal injury each year, you need medical attention as soon as possible. Even a minor injury to your back can cause severe discomfort, pain, and loss of functionality. 

Below, Metro Healthcare Partners shares a guide on the different types of spinal injuries to shed some light on what to do and what to expect.

What Are Spinal Cord Injuries?

The spinal cord runs up the length of your spine. It acts like a cable cover, protecting a tangle of nerves that feed into your torso and extremities. These nerves relay signals to the brain, which is why you walk, eat, and pick up objects without a second thought.

Additionally, vertebrae and layers of meninges cover and protect the spinal cord. 

Types of Spinal Cord Injuries

Types of Spinal Cord Injuries

Doctors use several categories to classify and diagnose spinal cord injuries. The simplest classification is between complete and partial spinal cord injuries. 

  • Complete injuries involve total paralysis. There is a loss of function below the site of the injury (often causing paraplegia or quadriplegia). 
  • Incomplete or partial injuries lose some functioning below the point of injury.

Many spinal cord injuries involve partial dysfunction of the arms and legs. No matter the location, doctors classify the typical spinal injury by the level of the injury on the spinal column as follows:

  1. Cervical injuries: the top set of vertebrae that extend into the neck
  2. Thoracic injuries: the middle of the spine, affecting the hand, arm, and abdomen
  3. Lumbar injuries: the lowest level of vertebrae, as well as the hips and legs
  4. Sacral spinal injuries: the coccyx or tailbone and pelvic organ functions

Of these four types of spinal cord injuries, cervical injuries are the most severe. They also have a higher risk of causing or developing into full-blown paralysis.

What Causes Spinal Cord Injuries?

Spinal injuries often happen with blunt-force impacts that damage the spinal cord. Car accidents are the most prominent cause of spinal cord injuries in the United States, comprising about 39% of all cases. Other major causes of spinal injuries include the following:

  • Falls
  • Violent altercations
  • Sports injuries
  • Medical or surgical accidents

According to the same report above by the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, the most common violent altercations causing spinal injury by 2023 were gunshot wounds. Spinal cord injury victims were mostly male with an average age of 43, but other risk factors include medical conditions like arthritis and risky hobbies like skiing or snowboarding.

Symptoms of Spinal Cord Injuries

The spinal cord is the main conduit for nerve conduction in the body, so many symptoms of spinal column injuries are neurological in nature. For example, common symptoms of spinal cord injuries include the following:

  • Extreme pain in the neck, back, or shoulders
  • Inability to walk or move
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Difficulty breathing or pain when sneezing, laughing, or coughing
  • Numbness and tingling in the back, arms, or legs
  • Incontinence or a loss of pelvic floor control

However, it’s important to note that these symptoms don’t always point to a spinal cord injury. 

Other issues that can cause similar issues involve damaged vertebrae or discs pushing on the spinal cord. In this case, your symptoms should lift as a medical professional addresses the injury. 

Still, if you have experienced any of these symptoms, you should see a medical professional immediately. Spinal cord injuries are serious and deteriorate quickly without proper medical attention and rehabilitation. If you leave it, you may even face partial or full paralysis over time.

Diagnosing Spinal Cord Injuries

Diagnosing Spinal Cord Injuries

Medical professionals can typically diagnose a spinal cord injury by assessing your nerve function and testing motor or sensory functioning. Various types of imaging also help to identify spinal cord injuries. For example:

  • CT scans can identify broken bones, clots, and damaged blood vessels. 
  • MRIs can detect soft tissue damage in the spine and spinal column.
  • X-rays can locate broken and dislodged vertebrae pushing on the spinal column. 

Spinal Cord Injury Treatment

How do doctors treat a spinal cord injury? Treatments vary significantly depending on the nature and severity of the injury. A severe injury might require surgery if the trauma affects another part of the body.

Even with surgery, rehabilitation will usually involve physical therapy for you to regain strength, coordination, and mobility through stretching, exercise, massage therapy, or spinal manipulations. Other forms of spinal cord treatment and management might include the following:

  • Analgesics
  • Assistive devices (e.g., wheelchairs, leg braces, and walkers)
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Occupational therapy to restore fine motor skills

Together in Wellness

If you’d like to know more, Metro Healthcare Partners can answer all your questions about spinal injuries and much more. Our doctors accept most insurance plans, including workers’ compensation, no-fault, and PIP (personal injury protection). Same-day appointments may be available. Why not contact us online or call (718) 395-9781 today for an appointment?

FAQs About Spinal Cord Injuries

Below are the most common questions we receive about spinal cord injuries and treatment. 

How Long Do Spinal Cord Injuries Take to Heal?

How long spinal cord injuries take to heal will depend on the severity and level of the injury. Patients with incomplete spinal cord injuries could take about 18 months to recover some normal functioning, but a full recovery from any type of spinal cord injury is still rare. Spinal injuries often damage central nervous tissue, which the body cannot regenerate, so doctors estimate only about 1% of spinal cord injury patients make a full recovery.  

Are Spinal Cord Injuries Serious?

Yes, spinal cord injuries are very serious and require immediate medical attention. Even less severe injuries can cause complications, so don’t delay treatment. 

Will Spinal Injuries Heal on Their Own?

No, spinal injuries will not heal on their own. Spinal cord damage is irreversible, as the body cannot regrow damaged central nervous tissue to regain full functionality. However, research into central nervous system tissue is ongoing.

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