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Spinal Cord Injuries: Types And Treatment Options

  • April 28, 2023
  • 17 min read
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Spinal Cord Injuries: Types And Treatment Options

The spinal cord is an essential part of your nervous system, which helps carry messages from the brain to the rest of your body. Once injured or damaged, it can result in enduring, transformative disabilities, including paralysis and other changes in sensation and movement. 

Depending on the severity and location of the damage, recovery may vary significantly from one individual to another. That’s why understanding the types of spinal cord injuries and available treatments to manage these conditions is imperative.

On that note, this article will explore different types of spinal cord injuries, causes, and treatment options so those affected can make informed decisions about proper care.

What Is A Spinal Cord Injury?

A spinal cord injury (SCI) is damage to any part of the spine or nerves at the end of the spinal canal. It can result in difficulty in movement, losing senses, or both that affect the lower portion of the injury. SCIs can occur from car accidents, sports injuries, falls, and violence.

Types Of Spinal Cord Injuries

SCI is a potentially devastating medical condition that can cause permanent disability or even death. Hence, it would be best to understand the various types of SCIs to recognize how they affect individuals and provide appropriate treatment.

  1. Complete Spinal Cord Injury

Complete Spinal Cord Injury (CSCI) is a type of injury that results in the total loss of all motor and sensory functions below the level of injury. It can occur due to direct spinal cord trauma or diseases such as cancer and stroke. People affected by CSCI may be at risk for developing secondary medical complications due to their inability to move around independently.

This necessitates finding a team of healthcare professionals to provide extensive care—such as Rocky Mountain Spine and Sport—whom they trust and feel comfortable working with during their recovery journey. Doing so will help maximize successful outcomes during the recovery process. 

  1. Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury

Incomplete spinal cord injury is a type of SCI in which the damage done to the spinal cord does not completely sever it. This means that some motor and sensory functions remain below the injury site. But complete paralysis may still occur above the injured area. 

People living with an incomplete SCI need access to resources that provide emotional support and information about available treatment options near them. Several organizations are dedicated to helping and advising those dealing with this condition so they don’t feel alone or overwhelmed. With proper care and support, individuals with incomplete SCI can significantly improve their quality of life.

Symptoms Of A Spinal Cord Injury

Symptoms of a spinal cord injury can range from mild to severe, depending on the type and severity. Some common signs and symptoms include:

  • Loss of sensation or movement below the injured area.
  • Weakness in the arms or legs.
  • Pain, numbness, tingling, cramping, or muscle spasms.
  • Difficulty breathing or difficulty with bowel and bladder control.

In some cases, victims may experience loss of sexual function and problems related to digestion and temperature regulation. Spinal cord injuries can also lead to cognitive impairments like the following:

  • Memory deficits
  • Impaired judgment
  • Personality changes
  • Decreased intellectual abilities
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Inability to concentrate

As seen above, spinal cord injuries not only affect physical abilities but also manifest in a cognitive and emotional challenges. This solidifies the need for comprehensive support and intervention strategies for those impacted.

Medical assistant treating woman with back and spine pain for physical recovery. Chiropractic nurse giving assistance to retired patient with spinal cord injury and orthopedic care

Ways To Diagnose A Spinal Cord Injury 

A spinal cord injury is typically diagnosed through a physical exam and diagnostic imaging tests. During the physical exam, the physician will look for any sensory or motor deficits below the injured level of the spine. 

The doctor may also ask questions about what caused the injury and check reflexes by tapping certain areas of the body. Diagnostic imaging scans such as X-rays, computerized tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can help physicians identify fractures, dislocations, or other signs of damage in the spine.

If signs suggest a possible spinal cord injury, further testing may be done with electrophysiological studies. These include electromyography (EMG) to measure nerve conduction and evoked potentials to detect changes in neural pathways from electrical stimulation. Other tests, such as somatosensory evoked potentials (SSEPs), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and motor evoked potentials (MEPs), may also be used to evaluate how much neurological function has been lost due to an injury.

As you can see, diagnosing a spinal cord injury requires a comprehensive evaluation by medical professionals specializing in this type of condition. Treatment options depend upon the severity of the initial injury and any secondary complications that develop afterward.

Treatment For A Spinal Cord Injury

Treatment for a spinal cord injury depends on the type and severity of the injury. Here are different treatment options:

  1. Medications

Medications are a common form of therapy that can alleviate symptoms and improve function in those who have suffered from SCI.

The type of medication prescribed will depend mainly upon the severity of the injury and any other associated medical issues. For example, pain medications may be necessary if the injured individual is experiencing chronic pain due to their injury. Moreover, anti-inflammatory drugs or muscle relaxants may be used to reduce inflammation and spasticity caused by SCI.

Antidepressants and antispasmodics are also often prescribed to help manage depression and spasms related to the injury. Individuals with a spinal cord injury need to speak with their doctor about all available drug treatments to decide what works best for them. 

  1. Surgery

Surgery is another excellent option for those with spinal cord injuries and can be used to treat various conditions. It’s typically reserved for more severe cases of SCI, especially when other treatments have failed to alleviate the condition. Different surgeries may be recommended based on the individual’s condition and needs.

The most common type of surgery is a decompression procedure that removes pressure from the spinal cord caused by herniated discs, bone spurs, tumors, or cysts. Other surgical procedures include:

  • Fusion operations to stabilize vertebrae and reduce pain.
  • Removal of fragments resulting from a traumatic injury.
  • Laminectomy to create space around compressed nerve roots.
  • Vertebroplasty/kyphoplasty for compression fractures.

In some instances, doctors might also recommend artificial disc replacement or injecting stem cells into the damaged area as part of treatment. Each situation requires careful consideration before deciding which form of surgery should occur. The recovery period may vary depending on the procedure. But the process generally involves physical therapy and rehabilitation after the surgery to regain strength and mobility.

  1. Immobilization

Having discussed surgery as an option for spinal cord injury treatment, it’s essential to consider immobilization. This involves restricting movement in the affected spine so that further damage won’t occur. Immobilization can be achieved through a variety of different methods, including:

  • Bracing or splinting
  • Casting or traction
  • Bed rest and body positioning
  • Medications such as muscle relaxants

The goal of immobilizing an injured spine is two-fold; firstly, to reduce any pain experienced by the patient, and secondly, to help prevent additional injuries from occurring. Restricted movement helps keep swelling down and prevents further nerve damage from happening. It also gives time for fractures or other tissue damage to heal correctly without putting undue pressure on them. 

Immobilization techniques combined with medication therapy will often relieve the pain associated with spinal cord injuries while promoting healing simultaneously. With careful monitoring and ongoing evaluation, these treatments can give people hope after suffering such a devastating condition.

  1. Experimental Treatments

When it comes to treating spinal cord injuries, a variety of experimental treatments have been developed. These treatments range from medical therapies and interventions to technological advances such as robotics and neural devices.

The most common type of medical intervention is stem cell therapy. Stem cells are harvested and injected into the damaged area to promote regeneration and healing. In some cases, they can even replace damaged tissues or organs. In addition, another form of medical treatment involves regenerative medicine techniques like gene therapy, which can help restore normal functioning after injury.

Furthermore, robotic systems have been developed to aid mobility issues caused by paralysis. Neural devices use electrical stimulation to activate nerves to regain some control over voluntary movement. 

All these methods offer hope for those suffering from spinal cord injuries, but more research needs to be done before any definitive conclusions can be made about their efficacy. To this end, clinical trials continue worldwide, searching for new ways to treat this debilitating condition.

  1. Rehabilitation And Therapy

Rehabilitation and therapy are essential components of recovery from spinal cord injuries. Many individuals require long-term physical, occupational, speech, or other forms of therapeutic intervention to help restore abilities that were impaired by the injury. 

Physical therapy helps to regain strength and movement in affected muscles. Meanwhile, occupational therapy focuses on activities for daily living, such as dressing, grooming, cooking, and using adaptive equipment if needed. Plus, speech and language pathology can be significant for helping those with difficulty speaking due to their injury.

Every individual must choose the best combination of therapies based on their needs and preferences. This decision must be made with input from doctors and therapists who understand spinal cord injuries to create the most appropriate plan for optimal outcomes.

Conclusion

Spinal cord injuries can be a debilitating and life-altering injury. Therefore, it’s essential to understand these injuries’ different types and symptoms to receive timely medical attention. Typically, surgery may be necessary for severe cases, while immobilization or experimental treatments are also an option. 

Rehabilitation and therapy will also help patients recover from an SCI by assisting them in regaining strength and mobility. With proper treatment and care, people with spinal cord injuries can still lead fulfilling lives despite any impairments they may experience. 

Spinal Cord Injuries: Types And Treatment Options

The spinal cord is an essential part of your nervous system, which helps carry messages from the brain to the rest of your body. Once injured or damaged, it can result in enduring, transformative disabilities, including paralysis and other changes in sensation and movement. 

Depending on the severity and location of the damage, recovery may vary significantly from one individual to another. That’s why understanding the types of spinal cord injuries and available treatments to manage these conditions is imperative.

On that note, this article will explore different types of spinal cord injuries, causes, and treatment options so those affected can make informed decisions about proper care.

What Is A Spinal Cord Injury?

A spinal cord injury (SCI) is damage to any part of the spine or nerves at the end of the spinal canal. It can result in difficulty in movement, losing senses, or both that affect the lower portion of the injury. SCIs can occur from car accidents, sports injuries, falls, and violence.

Types Of Spinal Cord Injuries

SCI is a potentially devastating medical condition that can cause permanent disability or even death. Hence, it would be best to understand the various types of SCIs to recognize how they affect individuals and provide appropriate treatment.

  1. Complete Spinal Cord Injury

Complete Spinal Cord Injury (CSCI) is a type of injury that results in the total loss of all motor and sensory functions below the level of injury. It can occur due to direct spinal cord trauma or diseases such as cancer and stroke. People affected by CSCI may be at risk for developing secondary medical complications due to their inability to move around independently.

This necessitates finding a team of healthcare professionals to provide extensive care—such as Rocky Mountain Spine and Sport—whom they trust and feel comfortable working with during their recovery journey. Doing so will help maximize successful outcomes during the recovery process. 

  1. Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury

Incomplete spinal cord injury is a type of SCI in which the damage done to the spinal cord does not completely sever it. This means that some motor and sensory functions remain below the injury site. But complete paralysis may still occur above the injured area. 

People living with an incomplete SCI need access to resources that provide emotional support and information about available treatment options near them. Several organizations are dedicated to helping and advising those dealing with this condition so they don’t feel alone or overwhelmed. With proper care and support, individuals with incomplete SCI can significantly improve their quality of life.

Symptoms Of A Spinal Cord Injury

Symptoms of a spinal cord injury can range from mild to severe, depending on the type and severity. Some common signs and symptoms include:

  • Loss of sensation or movement below the injured area.
  • Weakness in the arms or legs.
  • Pain, numbness, tingling, cramping, or muscle spasms.
  • Difficulty breathing or difficulty with bowel and bladder control.

In some cases, victims may experience loss of sexual function and problems related to digestion and temperature regulation. Spinal cord injuries can also lead to cognitive impairments like the following:

  • Memory deficits
  • Impaired judgment
  • Personality changes
  • Decreased intellectual abilities
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Inability to concentrate

As seen above, spinal cord injuries not only affect physical abilities but also manifest in a cognitive and emotional challenges. This solidifies the need for comprehensive support and intervention strategies for those impacted.

Ways To Diagnose A Spinal Cord Injury 

A spinal cord injury is typically diagnosed through a physical exam and diagnostic imaging tests. During the physical exam, the physician will look for any sensory or motor deficits below the injured level of the spine. 

The doctor may also ask questions about what caused the injury and check reflexes by tapping certain areas of the body. Diagnostic imaging scans such as X-rays, computerized tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can help physicians identify fractures, dislocations, or other signs of damage in the spine.

If signs suggest a possible spinal cord injury, further testing may be done with electrophysiological studies. These include electromyography (EMG) to measure nerve conduction and evoked potentials to detect changes in neural pathways from electrical stimulation. Other tests, such as somatosensory evoked potentials (SSEPs), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and motor evoked potentials (MEPs), may also be used to evaluate how much neurological function has been lost due to an injury.

As you can see, diagnosing a spinal cord injury requires a comprehensive evaluation by medical professionals specializing in this type of condition. Treatment options depend upon the severity of the initial injury and any secondary complications that develop afterward.

Treatment For A Spinal Cord Injury

Treatment for a spinal cord injury depends on the type and severity of the injury. Here are different treatment options:

  1. Medications

Medications are a common form of therapy that can alleviate symptoms and improve function in those who have suffered from SCI.

The type of medication prescribed will depend mainly upon the severity of the injury and any other associated medical issues. For example, pain medications may be necessary if the injured individual is experiencing chronic pain due to their injury. Moreover, anti-inflammatory drugs or muscle relaxants may be used to reduce inflammation and spasticity caused by SCI.

Antidepressants and antispasmodics are also often prescribed to help manage depression and spasms related to the injury. Individuals with a spinal cord injury need to speak with their doctor about all available drug treatments to decide what works best for them. 

  1. Surgery

Surgery is another excellent option for those with spinal cord injuries and can be used to treat various conditions. It’s typically reserved for more severe cases of SCI, especially when other treatments have failed to alleviate the condition. Different surgeries may be recommended based on the individual’s condition and needs.

The most common type of surgery is a decompression procedure that removes pressure from the spinal cord caused by herniated discs, bone spurs, tumors, or cysts. Other surgical procedures include:

  • Fusion operations to stabilize vertebrae and reduce pain.
  • Removal of fragments resulting from a traumatic injury.
  • Laminectomy to create space around compressed nerve roots.
  • Vertebroplasty/kyphoplasty for compression fractures.

In some instances, doctors might also recommend artificial disc replacement or injecting stem cells into the damaged area as part of treatment. Each situation requires careful consideration before deciding which form of surgery should occur. The recovery period may vary depending on the procedure. But the process generally involves physical therapy and rehabilitation after the surgery to regain strength and mobility.

  1. Immobilization

Having discussed surgery as an option for spinal cord injury treatment, it’s essential to consider immobilization. This involves restricting movement in the affected spine so that further damage won’t occur. Immobilization can be achieved through a variety of different methods, including:

  • Bracing or splinting
  • Casting or traction
  • Bed rest and body positioning
  • Medications such as muscle relaxants

The goal of immobilizing an injured spine is two-fold; firstly, to reduce any pain experienced by the patient, and secondly, to help prevent additional injuries from occurring. Restricted movement helps keep swelling down and prevents further nerve damage from happening. It also gives time for fractures or other tissue damage to heal correctly without putting undue pressure on them. 

Immobilization techniques combined with medication therapy will often relieve the pain associated with spinal cord injuries while promoting healing simultaneously. With careful monitoring and ongoing evaluation, these treatments can give people hope after suffering such a devastating condition.

  1. Experimental Treatments

When it comes to treating spinal cord injuries, a variety of experimental treatments have been developed. These treatments range from medical therapies and interventions to technological advances such as robotics and neural devices.

The most common type of medical intervention is stem cell therapy. Stem cells are harvested and injected into the damaged area to promote regeneration and healing. In some cases, they can even replace damaged tissues or organs. In addition, another form of medical treatment involves regenerative medicine techniques like gene therapy, which can help restore normal functioning after injury.

Furthermore, robotic systems have been developed to aid mobility issues caused by paralysis. Neural devices use electrical stimulation to activate nerves to regain some control over voluntary movement. 

All these methods offer hope for those suffering from spinal cord injuries, but more research needs to be done before any definitive conclusions can be made about their efficacy. To this end, clinical trials continue worldwide, searching for new ways to treat this debilitating condition.

  1. Rehabilitation And Therapy

Rehabilitation and therapy are essential components of recovery from spinal cord injuries. Many individuals require long-term physical, occupational, speech, or other forms of therapeutic intervention to help restore abilities that were impaired by the injury. 

Physical therapy helps to regain strength and movement in affected muscles. Meanwhile, occupational therapy focuses on activities for daily living, such as dressing, grooming, cooking, and using adaptive equipment if needed. Plus, speech and language pathology can be significant for helping those with difficulty speaking due to their injury.

Every individual must choose the best combination of therapies based on their needs and preferences. This decision must be made with input from doctors and therapists who understand spinal cord injuries to create the most appropriate plan for optimal outcomes.

Conclusion

Spinal cord injuries can be a debilitating and life-altering injury. Therefore, it’s essential to understand these injuries’ different types and symptoms to receive timely medical attention. Typically, surgery may be necessary for severe cases, while immobilization or experimental treatments are also an option. 

Rehabilitation and therapy will also help patients recover from an SCI by assisting them in regaining strength and mobility. With proper treatment and care, people with spinal cord injuries can still lead fulfilling lives despite any impairments they may experience. 

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