Living With a Spinal Cord Injury - Overview
What is a spinal cord injury?
A spinal cord injury
is damage to the spinal cord. The spinal cord is a soft bundle of nerves that
extends from the base of the brain to the lower back. It runs through the
spinal canal , a tunnel formed by holes in the bones of the
spine. The bony spine helps protect the spinal cord.
See pictures of the
spine and the
spinal cord .
The spinal cord carries messages between the brain
and the rest of the body. These messages allow you to move and to feel touch,
among other things. A spinal cord injury stops the flow of messages below the
site of the injury. The closer the injury is to the brain, the more of the body
- Injury to the middle of the back usually affects the legs
- Injury to the neck can affect the arms, chest, and legs
A spinal cord injury may be complete or incomplete. A
person with a complete injury does not have any feeling or movement below the
level of the injury. In an incomplete injury, the person still has some feeling
or movement in the affected area.
What causes a spinal cord injury?
A spinal cord
injury usually happens because of a sudden severe blow to the spine. Often this
is the result of a car accident, fall, gunshot, or sporting accident. Sometimes
the spinal cord is damaged by infection or
spinal stenosis, or by a birth defect, such as
What happens after a spinal cord injury?
hospital, treatment starts right away to prevent more damage to the spine and
spinal cord. Steps are taken to get your blood pressure stable and help you
breathe. You may get a
steroid medicine to reduce swelling of the spinal
cord. A number of tests are done. These include X-ray of the spine,
ultrasound of the kidneys. These tests are repeated
over time to check how you are doing.
A few days after the injury,
you will be tested to see how you respond to pinpricks and light touch all over
your body. The doctor will ask you to move different parts of your body and
test the strength of your muscles. These tests help the doctor know how severe
the injury is and how likely it is that you could get back some feeling and
movement. Most recovery occurs in the first 6 months.
As soon as
you are stable, rehabilitation (rehab) starts. The goal of rehab is to help
prepare you for life after rehab and help you be as independent as possible.
What happens in rehab depends on your level of injury. The rehab team will help
you to learn how to:
- Prevent problems like
pressure sores and know when you need to call a
Exercise to keep your muscles strong and flexible.
- Eat a balanced diet to help you stay healthy and manage your
- Learn to do things that most people do without thinking, such
as managing your bladder and bowel.
- Use a wheelchair or other devices so you can do things you