By Dr. Arun Sharma, Neurosurgery
A spinal cord injury is a damage to the spinal cord. It’s an extremely serious type of physical trauma that’s likely to have a lasting and significant impact on most aspects of daily life.
The spinal cord is responsible for sending messages from the brain to all parts of the body. It also sends messages from the body to the brain. We are able to perceive pain and move our limbs because of messages sent through the spinal cord.
If the spinal cord sustains an injury, some or all of these impulses may not be able to ‘get through’. The result is a partial or complete loss of sensation and mobility below the level of injury. A spinal cord injury closer to the neck will typically cause paralysis throughout a larger part of the body than one in the lower back area.
A spinal cord injury is often the result of an unpredictable accident or violent event. The following can all result in damage to the spinal cord:
- Road traffic accidents are the major cause
- A violent attack such as a stabbing or a gunshot
- Diving into water that’s too shallow and hitting the bottom
- Fall from a significant height
- Head or spinal injuries during sporting events
- Electrical accidents
Some symptoms of a spinal cord injury include:
- Difficulty or inability to walk
- Loss of bladder and/or bowel control
- Inability to move the arms or legs
- Feelings of spreading numbness or tingling in the extremities
- Pain, pressure, stiffness in the back or neck area
- Don’t move the injured person – permanent paralysis and other serious complications may result
- Call an ambulance or your local emergency medical assistance number
- Keep the person still
- Place heavy towels on both sides of the neck or hold the head and neck to prevent them from moving until emergency care arrives
- Provide basic first aid, such as stopping any bleeding and making the person comfortable, without moving the head or neck
Because spinal cord injuries are often due to unpredictable events, the best you can do is to reduce the risk.
Some risk-reducing measures include:
- Always wear a seatbelt while in a car
- Don’t drive two/four wheelers at high speeds
- Follow traffic rules to minimize roadside accidents
- Wear proper protective gear while playing sports
- Take proper precautions while trekking
- Never dive into water unless you know that it has the appropriate depth