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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Living With a Spinal Cord Injury - What Happens

Often a spinal cord injury (SCI) is caused by a blow to the spine camera.gif, resulting in broken or dislocated bones of the spine (vertebrae). The vertebrae bruise or tear the spinal cord camera.gif, damaging nerve cells.

When the nerve cells are damaged, messages cannot travel back and forth between the brain and the rest of the body. This causes a complete or partial loss of movement (paralysis) and feeling.

Sometimes the spinal cord is damaged by infection, bleeding into the space around the spinal cord, spinal stenosis, or a birth defect, such as spina bifida.

At the hospital

A person with a potential SCI is taken to an emergency department and then to an intensive care unit. The first priority is stabilizing blood pressure and lung function, as well as the spine, to prevent further damage. When a spinal cord injury is caused by a serious accident, treatment for other injuries is often needed.

The following tests may be done right away to help find out the extent of the injury. They may also be done routinely throughout and after you leave rehabilitation (rehab).

A few days after the injury, your doctor will ask you questions. Also, he or she will test not only the strength of key muscles but also your response to light touch and pinpricks all over your body.

Classifying a spinal cord injury

An SCI can be classified based on how much feeling and movement you have or where the damage occurred. When a nerve in the spinal cord is injured, the nerve location and number are often used to describe how much damage there is.

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