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Wondering What to Expect After a Spinal Cord Injury? We Have Answers.

Updated February 3, 2023 | By Wilson Kehoe Winingham staff

The information in this article should not replace any information, advice, or course of treatment given to you by a physician or medical professional.

Thousands of people each year suffer from spinal cord injuries, and the results can be devastating, life-altering, and even permanent. The spinal cord is the primary communication to the central nervous system. It’s a bundle of nerves that stretches down the spine from the brain that sends signals to the limbs and organs, telling them how to function.

Any disruption in these signals makes a huge impact on the way someone’s body can operate, and, unfortunately, the spinal cord is very sensitive to injury. It’s protected by the vertebrae that make up the spine, but there’s only so much protection the vertebrae can offer in certain situations.

What Happens Inside an Injured Spinal Cord

Spinal cord interference can happen in a number of ways. For example, if the spinal cord loses its blood supply, the nerve tissue can lose access to oxygen and inevitably die. Sometimes the cord can become compressed and lose its ability to transmit signals, which can happen when a tumor grows on the spinal cord or as a result of certain infections, such as meningitis.

Spinal cord injuries can also be caused by trauma to the back or spine. Spine function may be impaired if the spinal cord is twisted too far, impacted too hard, or severed.

Symptoms of a Spinal Cord Injury

The symptoms experienced by an individual patient depend on whether the injury is complete (meaning that the patient loses all sensation and muscle function below the injury) or incomplete (meaning that spine function and sensation are retained). The severity of the injury also has an impact on symptoms. In general, be aware of these signs:

  • Weakness
  • Loss of muscle function and sensation
  • Loss of control of bodily functions, especially in cases where the injury is in the lower back
  • Difficulty breathing, especially in cases where the injury is in the upper back

Spinal Cord Injury Diagnosis

Spinal cord injuries are diagnosed during a physical exam. A physical exam will likely involve the arms and legs; these tests will check the limbs to see whether the patient still has a sense of touch, muscle strength, and reflexes.

To determine whether the injury was caused by a fracture or a dislocation of the vertebrae, x-rays might be taken of the neck and back. An x-ray would also be able to sense the presence of a tumor or a condition like arthritis that may have contributed to the injury. A MRI might also be conducted, in which case the focus of the test would be looking for ligaments, nerves, intervertebral disks, and the spinal cord itself to determine what could have happened.

Recovery After a Spinal Cord Injury

While medical science is doing its best to research cures, treatment is the only option at this time. The spinal cord, because it is made up of nerve tissue like the brain, cannot heal itself. If the patient was immobilized at the time of the injury and treated quickly, the treatment will go more smoothly. The majority of the recovery will take place within six months after the injury; anything that doesn’t heal after twelve months has less of a chance of recovering completely.

Patients might be prescribed steroids to reduce swelling and inflammation, which will put less pressure on the spinal cord and reduce the risk of further damage. A spinal cord injury might also require surgical treatment. The purpose of this is twofold: Firstly, surgery is another measure that can be used to relieve pressure on the spinal cord; secondly, surgery can help stabilize the spine, usually by putting in metal screws, rods, or plates.

Even after treatment, complications can still happen. Patients might experience chronic pain and muscle spasms from the injury itself, but there could also be complications from being immobile, such as pressure sores, pneumonia, and urinary tract infections. A patient that isn’t able to do what they used to do could also become depressed.

Contact a Personal Injury Attorney Today

If you or a loved one have suffered as a result of a spinal cord injury, you are urged to contact the Indianapolis Personal Injury Attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. The lawyers at WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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