Spinal Cord Injury

Unraveling the Complexity: Insights into Spinal Cord Injuries and Their Management

The spinal cord, an essential structure in the human body, functions as the primary conduit for neural signals between the brain and the rest of the body. When this cord sustains damage, the consequences can be life-altering. Understanding spinal cord injuries, their origins, and the available treatments is crucial for prevention and rehabilitation.

What is Spinal Cord Injury?

A spinal cord injury (SCI) refers to damage to the spinal cord that results in a loss of function, such as mobility or feeling. The spinal cord does not have to be severed for a loss of function to occur. In fact, in most people with SCI, the spinal cord remains intact, but the damage to it results in its dysfunction.

The severity of SCIs can be categorized in two ways:

  1. Complete: There’s no sensation or voluntary movement below the level of the injury. Both sides of the body are equally affected.
  2. Incomplete: There’s some function below the primary level of the injury. A person might move one limb more than the other, feel sensation only on only portions of the body, or have more function on one side than the other.

Causes and Development of Spinal Cord Injury

The causes of SCI can be traumatic or non-traumatic:

1. Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury: This results from a sudden traumatic blow to the spine that fractures, dislocates, crushes, or compresses one or more of the vertebrae. Common causes include:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Falls
  • Sports injuries
  • Violence (e.g., gunshot or stab wounds)
  • Medical/surgical procedur

2. Non-traumatic Spinal Cord Injury: This might result from diseases like cancer, or from infections, arthritis, disk degeneration, or inflammation of the spine.

Surgery Options

Surgery can be vital in treating spinal cord injuries, either to stabilize the spine or to prevent further injury. Below are the primary surgical treatments available.

  1. Decompression Surgery: This involves removing the source of pressure–which can include fragments of bones, herniated discs, or hematomas–on the spinal cord. Decompression can prevent further damage and promote neural recovery.
  2. Vertebroplasty and Kyphoplasty: These are minimally invasive procedures used to treat vertebral compression fractures. Bone cement is injected into the damaged vertebrae during vertebroplasty. In kyphoplasty, a balloon is first inserted and inflated to expand the compressed vertebra before filling it with bone cement.
  3. Spinal Fusion: This is the most common surgery for chronic SCI pain. When pain results from movement of two or more vertebrae, those separate vertebrae can be joined into a single solid bone. This eliminates the movement that produces the pain,  stops potential future damage from unstable vertebrae, and facilitates healing. This surgery often involves the use of metal rods, screws, or plates.

It’s essential to note that the decision to undergo surgery and the choice of procedure depends on the specifics of the injury, and that potential benefits must be weighed against any risk. An interdisciplinary team of professionals typically collaborates in recommending procedures, managing recovery, and post-surgical rehabilitation.

Post Surgery Rehab

Once the immediate crisis of a spinal cord injury is addressed, attention shifts to rehabilitation and recovery. The goal of rehabilitation is to assist the individual in achieving the highest level of independence and quality of life possible. Some activities of rehabilitation may include: 

  1. Physical Therapy (PT): PT focuses on improving physical strength, flexibility, and mobility. This might involve exercises, gait training, and the use of assistive devices.
  2. Occupational Therapy (OT): OT helps individuals with SCI re-learn day-to-day, essential activities such as dressing, eating, and bathing. It also introduces tools and techniques to foster independence in those activities.
  3. Speech and Language Therapy: This is beneficial if the injury affects the patient’s ability to speak or swallow.
  4. Vocational Rehabilitation: This therapy aids in reintegrating the individual into the workforce, as well as addressing the challenges they may face due to their injury.
  5. Psychological Therapy: Emotional and psychological well-being is vital. Counseling and support groups can provide coping strategies and a platform to share experiences and feelings.

A spinal cord injury can drastically change an individual’s life trajectory, but it doesn’t need to diminish one’s potential for a fulfilling life. While prevention remains the best approach, recognizing the available treatments can offer both hope and a path to recovery for those affected. Advancements in medical technology and research continue to expand the horizons of SCI treatment, promising better outcomes for future patients.

For a comprehensive evaluation and to explore your treatment options, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment or seek a second opinion consultation with Dr. Scott Raffa at Cantor Spine Center at the Paley Orthopedic & Spine Center by calling 561-935-1188. Take the first step towards a pain-free life by calling us today.