The spine serves crucial functions in supporting the body and in protecting the spinal cord. Housed within the backbone is a bundle of nerves that coordinate electrical signals between the brain and the body. Since the spinal cord cannot regenerate once damaged, spinal injuries can leave a lasting, sometimes severe, impact on the patient’s lifestyle.
Doctors classify spinal injuries based on severity and location to help facilitate treatment. Let’s talk about the different types of spine injuries and how they are treated:
Complete vs. Incomplete Injury
In general, spinal damage causes impairment of functions below the site of injury. In a complete injury, you will lose all feeling and function below the location of the injury in your spine; in an incomplete injury, you will retain some feeling and function below the injury. Every injury is different and can thereby affect patients differently.
For example, a complete injury to the spine in the lower back will lead to leg paralysis while still keeping arm sensation and control intact. A complete injury in the cervical spine, which is in the back of the neck area, will cause almost total quadriplegia. Some quadriplegic patients may be able to move their shoulders and therefore be able to move their arms to a limited, but helpful, degree.
In a complete spinal cord injury, the patient is unable to control the muscles in the affected extremities and cannot perceive sensations from them – whether pain or temperature, such as if touching a hot stove. Reflexes, which generally occur without conscious intervention, are also absent. This type of injury tends to affect both sides of the body equally.
In an incomplete spinal cord injury, some motor function and sensation are still present, and control might be sufficient for certain daily activities. Incomplete injuries may affect one side more than the other, and this injury is more responsive to treatment and rehabilitation than complete injury.
Injuries to Vertebrae
Damage to the spinal cord usually comes from traumatic impact to the vertebral bones and ligaments. Initial medical treatment of spinal cord injuries will include stabilization of any broken bone.
In the U.S., the most common reasons for having a spinal injury are the following:
- Car accidents
- Violence (especially gunshot wounds to the spine)
- Sports (diving in shallow water, high-impact sports)
- Alcohol-induced accidents
- Infection and disease
Damage to the Vertebral Discs
Between each set of two vertebrae is a tough but pliable protective disc that helps to absorb shock, such as when you are walking. These discs cushion the bones from rubbing against each other as you twist, bend, and move around, and they also protect the spinal cord.
The outside of the disc is relatively hard whereas the inside is soft, and the outer membrane can rupture with age or overuse – allowing the soft interior to leak out and cause pressure on the spinal cord. This is called a ruptured disc. The pressure can affect the nerves and can therefore cause pain, which is likely to be felt in the part of the body that is controlled by that part of the spinal cord.
Forms of Paralysis
Tetraplegia, or quadriplegia, is when all four limbs are paralyzed, along with the trunk and pelvic organs. Tetraplegia typically occurs when the injury is located in the cervical spine.
The other main form of paralysis due to spinal cord injury is paraplegia, where only the legs and pelvic organs are paralyzed. Sometimes, paraplegia also involves parts of the trunk. This is more common than quadriplegia since it can occur from a severe injury at almost any site on the spine.
Medical Care for Spine Injury
Quick emergency response, proper treatment, and intensive rehabilitation are all critical to give patients the best outcomes after a spine injury. If you are in Central Maryland and have a back injury or other musculoskeletal issues, from arthritis to a sprained ankle, our team at the Orthopaedic Associates of Central Maryland is here for you.
To request an appointment, call us today at (410) 644-1880 or (855) 4MD-BONE (463-2663), or fill out our online form. We look forward to helping you achieve the highest quality of life possible!