Effects of Spinal Cord Injury

After a spinal cord injury has been sustained the damage caused can vary depending on what part of the spine has been injured and what type of injury has occurred.

A spinal cord injury causes interruption in vital messages going to and from the brain, which may result in parts of the body no longer functioning properly. This may be because the spinal cord is swollen, known as spinal shock, which may last hours or weeks.

Once the swelling has gone down sensation and movement may return if the cord has only been partially damaged. If the injured person has sustained an incomplete injury it may take up to two years to recover.

In the case of complete injuries it is unlikely any function will return.

Not only can a spinal injury cause loss of muscle function and sensation it can also result in organs, such as the bladder and bowels experiencing loss of function. It can also affect a person’s ability to sweat below the level of injury as well the body’s ability to regulate blood pressure.

If the injury is sustained at a high level it is likely that the injured person will lose the ability to control their body temperature, and should injury be sustained even higher up the spine assistance with breathing will be required, often with the use of a ventilator.

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  • Following A Spinal Cord Injury
  • Complications
  • Following A Spinal Cord Injury

    There are four types of paralysis that may result following a spinal cord injury, they are as follows;

    • Paraplegia – this is the loss of movement and sensation of the lower part of the body, namely both legs and often internal organs from the level of the injury down
    • Tetraplegia (or Quadriplegia) – is where both arms and legs are affected, resulting from an injury to the neck
    • Complete – refers to injuries where there is no muscle function or sensation below the level of injury. This type of injury affects both sides of the body to an equal degree.
    • Incomplete – refers to injuries where there is some muscle function or sensation below the level of injury. These injuries are usually classified as follows;
    1. Anterior cord syndrome – is where damage to the front of the spinal cord has occurred, affecting pain, temperature and touch. However, some pressure and joint sensation may remain. Motor function is often unaffected.
    2. Central cord syndrome – some of the signals from the brain to the body are not received, resulting in impairment in the hands and arms and sometimes the legs. In this category loss of sensation below the injury site is likely, together with possible loss of bladder control. The brain’s ability to send and receive signals to/from parts of the body below the injury is affected but not completely blocked.
    3. Brown-Sequard syndrome – injury to the lateral half of the spinal cord.
    4. Spinal contusions – this is the most common type of spinal cord injury. With this type of injury the spine is bruised, causing inflammation and bleeding to occur near the injury.
  • Complications

    What are the complications following a spinal cord injury?

    Possible complications of a spinal cord injury can include;

    • Blood pressure changes
    • Chronic kidney disease
    • Complication of immobility (DVT, lung infections, skin breakdown)
    • Increased risk of injury to numb areas of the body
    • Increased risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs)
    • Loss of bladder control
    • Loss of bowel control
    • Loss of feeling
    • Loss of sexual function (male impotence)
    • Muscle spasticity
    • Pain
    • Paralysis of breathing muscles
    • Paralysis
    • Pressure sores