The diagnosis of a spinal cord injury is potentially life-changing. If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with a spinal cord injury you likely have countless questions. This article will review the basics of spinal cord injury and the services Sierra Care provides that can prime your body for the best possible recovery.
Spinal cord injury is a diagnosis that is given to a wide range of injuries that stop signals from traveling from the brain to the rest of the body through the nerves of the spinal cord, which is located within the bones of the spine. The most important types of spinal cord injury are “partial” and “complete” injuries.
The spinal cord acts as a highway for information between the brain and the rest of the body. It is a bundle of nerves that transmits the signals that our brain uses to tell the muscles of the body to move and allow the sensations of touch, pain, and pressure to travel from our skin to our brain.
The spinal cord runs from the skull to the lower back through the bones of the back that make up the spine. These bones are called “vertebrae” and shaped like rings with the fragile spinal cord traveling through their center. This is how the spinal cord is protected from damage, by the bony vertebrae that make up the spine.
The most important thing to understand about the spinal cord is that it is like a long highway with many exits, if you cut off the highway no traffic can pass the damaged area to reach the exits past the damaged area. The medical term used to describe where the spinal cord is damaged is the spinal injury level.
Spinal cord “levels” are used by doctors to describe where along the back the spinal cord has been damaged. These levels have both a letter and a number which represents one of the vertebrae (bones) of the spine. The three letters used are C, T, and L.
There are a different total number of vertebrae in each of these categories, the bigger the number the further down the spine the injury has occurred. This is important because it determines which parts of the body will be affected by a spinal cord injury.
The vast majority of spinal cord injuries that are treated at Sierra Care are the result of a traumatic injury or accidents. Some of the most common causes of spinal cord injury are:
There are many other causes of spinal cord injury as well, these are less common than trauma but in many cases are treated in a similar way:
These conditions can lead to either complete or partial spinal cord injury, incomplete spinal cord injuries are the most common type of spinal cord injury. Any of these causes can result in either partial or complete spinal cord injury depending on the severity of the injury.
No two patients with a spinal cord injury are alike, the exact symptoms will vary heavily based on where and how severely the spinal cord is damaged. However, there are some general symptoms we expect to see in all patients with spinal cord injury.
In patients with a complete spinal cord injury the most common symptoms are:
In patients with a partial spinal cord injury the most common symptoms are:
Almost all patients with a suspected spinal cord injury are brought to an emergency room for immediate evaluation due to the severity of their symptoms. The diagnosis is confirmed with several advanced tests and a detailed examination known as the ASIA examination.
The ASIA (American Spinal Injury Association) exam is performed by a neurologist or another doctor specialized in the care of spinal cord injury. This exam is a detailed assessment of any changes in the ability of the body to move or feel various sensations and is graded from A (most severe) to E (normal).
The most important grades of the ASIA exam are A, B, and C.
The treatment of spinal cord injury is intense and time-critical. Patients with a spinal cord injury of any severity benefit from aggressive rehabilitation and therapy by a combination of physicians, nurses, physical therapists, and occupational therapists.
The majority of this treatment occurs outside of the hospital the patient was admitted to for their spinal cord injury. This is known as subacute care and is a bridge between the hospital and discharge home. Sierra Care is equipped to provide these subacute services to patients with any severity of spinal cord injury, specializing in the most severe form, complete spinal cord injury. Some of the interventions provided in subacute care are:
Unlike most other medical conditions a spinal cord injury cannot be effectively managed with medications and follow-up visits after hospitalization. The skills that patients with a spinal cord injury need to optimize their recovery and live life to the fullest are best taught in an intensive environment with supervision from many medical specialists. Click here to learn more about Sierra Care’s program for spinal cord injury recovery.
One of the most common questions that patients with spinal cord injury have is “when will life get back to normal.” For many patients, a return to normal life will only be possible with the new skills they learn during subacute care. While complete recovery is rare, the treatment provided in subacute care is critical to maximizing recovery.
One of the most important elements of recovery from a spinal cord injury is avoiding the idea that nothing can be done. No matter how devastating the injury, improvement is made with therapy. Sierra Care is dedicated to maximizing your recovery and getting you or your loved one back to the long and fulfilling life they have yet to live.