A spinal cord injury — damage to any part of the spinal cord or nerves at the end of the spinal canal (cauda equina) — often causes permanent changes in strength, sensation and other body functions below the site of the injury.
If you've recently experienced a spinal cord injury, it might seem like every aspect of your life has been affected. You might feel the effects of your injury mentally, emotionally and socially. CALL (954) 500-FREE
Many scientists are optimistic that advances in research will someday make the repair of spinal cord injuries possible. Research studies are ongoing around the world. In the meantime, treatments and rehabilitation allow many people with spinal cord injuries to lead productive, independent lives. IF YOU ARE NOT RECEIVING ADEQUATE TREATMENT CALL (954) 500-FREE
WHAT IS YOUR CONDITION?
- Complete. If all feeling (sensory) and all ability to control movement (motor function) are lost below the spinal cord injury, your injury is called complete.
- Incomplete. If you have some motor or sensory function below the affected area, your injury is called incomplete. There are varying degrees of incomplete injury.
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Emergency signs and symptoms of a spinal cord injury after an accident may include:
- Extreme back pain or pressure in your neck, head or back
- Weakness, incoordination or paralysis in any part of your body
- Numbness, tingling or loss of sensation in your hands, fingers, feet or toes
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Difficulty with balance and walking
- Impaired breathing after injury
- An oddly positioned or twisted neck or back
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Signs of Disability
At first, changes in the way your body functions may be overwhelming. However, proper medical treatment will address the changes caused by the spinal cord injury, in addition to recommending equipment and resources to promote quality of life and independence. Areas often affected include:
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Bladder control. Your bladder will continue to store urine from your kidneys. However, your brain may not be able to control your bladder as well because the message carrier (the spinal cord) has been injured.
The changes in bladder control increase your risk of urinary tract infections. The changes also may cause kidney infections and kidney or bladder stones. During rehabilitation, you'll learn new techniques to help empty your bladder.
- Bowel control. Although your stomach and intestines work much like they did before your injury, control of your bowel movements is often altered. With proper medical treatment you'll learn techniques to optimize your bowel function during rehabilitation.
Skin sensation. Below the neurological level of your injury, you may have lost part of or all skin sensations. Therefore, your skin can't send a message to your brain when it's injured by certain things such as prolonged pressure, heat or cold.
This can make you more susceptible to pressure sores, but changing positions frequently — with help, if needed — can help prevent these sores. With proper medical treatment you'll learn proper skin care during rehabilitation, which can help you avoid these problems.
Circulatory control. A spinal cord injury may cause circulatory problems ranging from low blood pressure when you rise (orthostatic hypotension) to swelling of your extremities. These circulation changes may also increase your risk of developing blood clots, such as deep vein thrombosis or a pulmonary embolus.
Another problem with circulatory control is a potentially life-threatening rise in blood pressure (autonomic hyperreflexia). With proper medical treatment you will be taught how to address these problems.
Respiratory system. Your injury may make it more difficult to breathe and cough if your abdominal and chest muscles are affected. These include the diaphragm and the muscles in your chest wall and abdomen.
Your neurological level of injury will determine what kind of breathing problems you may have. If you have a cervical and thoracic spinal cord injury, you may have an increased risk of pneumonia or other lung problems. Medications and therapy can help prevent and treat these problems.
- Muscle tone. Some people with spinal cord injuries experience one of two types of muscle tone problems: uncontrolled tightening or motion in the muscles (spasticity) or soft and limp muscles lacking muscle tone (flaccidity).
Fitness and wellness. Weight loss and muscle atrophy are common soon after a spinal cord injury. Limited mobility may lead to a more sedentary lifestyle, placing you at risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
A dietitian can help you eat a nutritious diet to sustain an adequate weight. Physical and occupational therapists can help you develop a fitness and exercise program.
- Sexual health. Sexuality, fertility and sexual function may be affected by a spinal cord injury. Men may notice changes in erection and ejaculation; women may notice changes in lubrication. Physicians specializing in urology or fertility can offer options for sexual functioning and fertility.
- Pain. People often experience pain, such as muscle or joint pain, from overuse of particular muscle groups. Nerve pain can occur after a spinal cord injury, especially in someone with an incomplete injury.
- Depression. Coping with all the changes a spinal cord injury brings, and living with pain causes some people to experience depression.
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