Spinal Cord Injury Contributing Factors and Causes
Spinal cord injuries can have devastating consequences. About 17,000 new spinal cord injury (SCI) cases occur each year. Although spinal cord injuries can happen to anyone, about 80 percent of all new spinal cord injury cases are men.
The Mayo Clinic defines a spinal cord injury as “damage to any part of the spinal cord or nerves at the end of the spinal canal.” The spinal cord runs up and down the center of the body. Through a network of nerve fibers, it carries messages from the brain to the body, controlling motor, sensory and autonomic functions. Together, the spinal cord and the brain make up the central nervous system. When the spinal cord has been injured, it loses the ability to send and receive these messages below the site of the injury. The injury may be anything from a spinal cord that is bruised, but intact, to a completely severed spinal cord. The extent and location of the damage will determine the loss of function.
Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries
Trauma is the most frequent cause of spinal cord injuries. Other causes include diseases, tumors, loss of oxygen, electric shock or poisoning.
The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center reports that car crashes are a leading cause of injury. Falls are also a significant cause, particularly among older people. Acts of violence (mostly gunshot wounds) account for approximately 11 percent of spinal cord injuries. Sports and other recreational activities are another common cause. Athletes such as skiers, gymnasts, divers, surfers and hockey players also have a higher risk of SCI. Individuals with diseases of the bones and joints, such as arthritis, osteoporosis, and cancer are more likely to have spinal cord injuries.
Signs and Symptoms of a Spinal Cord Injury
The symptoms of a spinal cord injury depend on whether the injury is complete or incomplete. If all feeling and movement (motor function) below the injury are lost, then the injury is known as complete. If, however, there is some feeling and movement below the injured area, the injury is called incomplete. The symptoms also depend on the location of the injury, such as the neck or middle back. It may not be immediately obvious whether or not the spinal cord has been injured. The injured person should be kept completely still until medical help arrives.
Common symptoms of a spinal cord injury may include:
- The ability to feel sensations such as cold, heat or touch may be altered or lost
- Paralysis or lack of coordination in any part of the body
- Severe pressure and/or pain in the back or neck
- Problems with breathing, coughing or clearing the lungs
- Spasms or exaggerated reflex activities
- Numbness and weakness
- Problems maintaining balance and walking
- Loss of normal bowel and bladder control
Spinal Cord Injury Diagnosis
In diagnosing a possible spinal cord injury, doctors usually begin by talking with the patient, if possible, and performing an examination. There are also several diagnostic tests that can provide more information about the nature and consequences of the injuries.
X-rays of the spine can reveal fractures, tumors, and problems with the vertebrae. A computerized tomography (CT) scan can show more details about the injury. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan detects herniated disks, blood clots and other problems that may affect the spinal cord. Myelography identifies damage to spinal nerves. The results of these tests will help doctors determine what treatment to use and what degree of recovery can be expected.
Spinal Cord Injury Prevention
There are many ways to protect yourself and your loved ones from the risk of a spinal cord injury. When traveling by car, the driver and passengers should wear a functioning seat belt. Children should be properly secured in an appropriate and functional safety seat, according to current safety recommendations. No one who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs should drive. No one should ride with an impaired driver at the wheel.
Older people have a higher risk of spinal cord injuries from falls. These risks can be minimized by using non-slip rugs or mats in wet or slippery areas. All railings, banisters and grab bars should be well maintained and secure. Proper supervision can also help to avoid accidents by preventing the elderly from engaging in tasks that may be strenuous or hazardous to their back health.
Proper safety gear is a must for athletes. Helmets should also be worn for casual recreational activities, such as baseball, biking, motorcyclists, skaters and horseback riders. Finally, guns should be stored unloaded and in a locked case, with ammunition locked up separately.
A spinal cord injury can be traumatic and painful. It may affect your ability to walk, continue your employment and enjoy your life to the fullest. While there are treatments, the extent of recovery is uncertain. As a result of a spinal cord injury, your life and your future may be forever altered.
Some effects of a spinal cord injury are immediate, others may develop or worsen over time. SCI can intensify the normal aging process, causing increased deterioration and loss of function. Long-term effects may include:
- Pain, particularly in the lower back
- Bladder and bowel dysfunction
- Sexual dysfunction
Syringomyelia is a cyst that forms within your spinal cord. This may occur months or even years after the injury. Those who suffer from syringomyelia often feel gradual weakness and numbness in their extremities. It may worsen with age.
A spinal cord injury will change many aspects of your life. Simple tasks you used to perform before your injury may now be incredibly difficult. You may find yourself dependent on others for your care and basic life needs. The cost of medical care, hospital stays, rehabilitation and long-term aftercare is overwhelming. You may also have suffered lost wages, as well as diminished earning capacity for the future. You may also suffer pain, suffering, and emotional distress.
Seek an Experienced Spinal Cord Injury Attorney
If you have suffered a spinal cord injury, consult an experienced, compassionate attorney. If you have questions about your injury or wish to schedule a free consultation, please call our office New Port Richey at (727) 853-6275 or contact us online. We are here to help.
Dolman Law Group
5435 Main Street
New Port Richey, FL 34652