Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal Cord Injury

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We just don’t cure, we care

Every year, 250,000-500,000 cases of spinal cord injury are reported worldwide. Referred to as “an ailment not to be treated” in the Edwin Smith papyrus dated over 5000 years ago, spinal cord injury is an extremely difficult condition marked by paralysis and loss of partial or complete sensation.

The rise in the prevalence of spinal cord injury is what motivates us to search for alternate treatment methods along with the usual ones.

The spinal cord is the critical column of nerves that runs down the middle of the spine in a human body. This column is solely responsible for carrying signals back and forth between the brain and the rest of the body. Any injury to the spinal cord means this transmission of signals will be disrupted leading to temporary or permanent disability. Damage to the spinal cord affects sensory, motor and reflex messages. As a rule, the location of the injury on the spinal cord decides the level of disability. The higher the location of the injury on the spinal cord, the more serious the nature of the disability.

Damage or injury to the spinal cord occurs due to any trauma to the vertebrae, ligaments or disks of the spinal column. Spinal cord injury could be traumatic or non-traumatic the former resulting from a sudden blow to the spine that fractures, dislocates, crushes or compresses one or more of the vertebrae. Spinal Cord Injury can be due to:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Football
  • Falls
  • Gymnastics
  • Violence
  • Unsupervised sport activities

A non-traumatic injury may be caused due to arthritis, cancer, inflammation, infections, or degeneration of the spine.

Irrespective of whether the injury is traumatic or non-traumatic the damage affects the nerve fibers passing through the injured area. This damage may result in various symptoms:

  • Loss of movement
  • Loss of sensation, i.e. ability to feel touch, cold or heat.
  • Loss of control over bowel and bladder.
  • Exaggerated reflex activities or spasms
  • Changes in sexual function and sensitivity
  • Experiencing of Pain or an intense stinging sensation caused nerve damage of spinal cord
  • Difficulty breathing, coughing or clearing secretions from lungs in case of higher levels of spinal cord injury

Depending on the intensity of damage, spinal cord injury may be classified as complete or incomplete. When all the ability to control movement below the spinal cord injury is lost it is called complete injury whereas in case of incomplete injury, some motor or sensory activity below the affected area is lost. The condition of paralysis accompanying spinal cord injury is called quadriplegia which affects arms, hands legs, trunk and pelvis; and paraplegia which affects part of the trunk, pelvis and leg.

Though the brain and spinal cord are capable of regeneration, the repair is not enough to completely reverse the damage caused. The damage that occurs to these tissues is, more often than not, irreversible.

Latest advances in medicine may provide for repairing the spine but nerve damage in the spinal cord is not possible by any surgery or medication. Treatment is available as surgery to decompress and stabilize the injury to the spinal cord and to manage secondary complications.

However, surgery is not a guarantee of complete relief. Even after the surgery, many patients complain of discomfort. This may be taken care of by rehabilitation therapy and the use of assisted devices Rehabilitation modules are a combination of physical therapy with skill-building activities and counseling to provide social and emotional support.

Dr. Alok Sharma

Consultant Neurosurgeon

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