Spinal Cord Injury: The Initial Phase

Winter time in Michigan can be filled with fun activities like skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling. While many Dobson Healthcare clients have sustained their Spinal Cord Injuries (SCI) from auto accidents or accidents on the job, this isn’t the only way to injury your spine. Without the proper handling of equipment or safety precautions, several of your favorite wintertime activities could result in a Spinal Cord Injury. 

When an injury is sustained, life stops and you have to figure out the next best option for care for you or your loved one. You may have many questions if the event occurs so the following excerpt is information we gathered from various sources on what you need to know when you’re dealing with the emergency phase and a newly diagnosed spine injury.

 Stabilizing the Injured Person

After the injury, the first task of emergency respondents is to check and stabilize the person’s heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. This is to understand how the body reacted, determine if intubation is necessary, and to prevent inflammation. They will also place the patient into a special brace to secure the spinal cord to prevent further damage.  Whether the injury is traumatic or non-traumatic, the person will most likely be taken to the nearest trauma care center.

Once in the hospital, medications may be used to “control the extent of the damage to the spinal cord, alleviate pain, treat infections, and other issues related to the injury” (“Emergency Management”). It is very likely that the patient will also use a traction technique, such as a brace or body harness, to inhibit movement. Neuroprotective therapies may be administered as the first medical treatment. These can be in the form of a steroid drug called methylprednisolone and/or therapeutic hypothermia (either with injected saline or special blankets combined with cold packs) to reduce swelling.

 Classifying the Injury

Using x-rays, MRI’s, CT scans, and neurological examinations, doctors can determine the type of SCI and whether it is a complete or incomplete injury. The location of the SCI also dictates which parts of the body are affected.

  1. Spinal Contusions

This is the most common type of SCI. It is caused by damage to nerve cells which can create bruising, loss of sensory and motor functions, and inflammation and bleeding near the spinal cord. This type of SCI, however, usually only has temporary effects with a quick recovery period.

  1. Cervical Spinal Cord Injuries

This is also known as quadriplegia or tetraplegia. With this injury, areas from the point of the injury (at the top of the back) down are affected. This usually includes the back of the head, neck, shoulders, arms, and diaphragm. This SCI requires the patient to be placed in a brace or stabilizing device.

  1. Thoracic Spinal Cord Injuries

The muscles of the back and part of the abdomen are affected at the Thoracic level. It can cause paralysis, weakness of the legs, and bowel and bladder dysfunction with most patients only wearing a brace for extra support. Because of the rib cage offering protection, this is the least common SCI.

  1. Lumbar Spinal Cord Injuries

Like Thoracic SCI’s, the back muscles and abdomen are affected with this SCI. Again, paralysis, weakness of the legs, and bowel and bladder dysfunction is common. However. the buttocks and parts of the legs are also included. At the Lumbar level, surgery and external stabilization tools are often required.

  1. Sacral Spinal Cord Injury

With a Sacral SCI, the hips, legs, feet, and genital organs can become weak or be in a state of paralysis. The functioning of the bowel and bladder may also be lost. Most patients after the injury must learn to utilize a wheelchair.

 Surgical Interventions

Finally, once they are in a stable condition, the patient will meet with a surgeon on what to do next. Surgery is often recommended for a number of reasons. The patient may require the removal of bone fragments or foreign objects near the spine. Blood clots or tumors might have formed and need to be removed. The vertebrae cold be fractured or need realigning. However, if the vertebrae appears to be unstable, a spinal fusion using metal plates or rods might be performed.

For more information on Spinal Cord Injuries, we encourage you to use the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center. To learn how Dobson Healthcare can provide staffing or care for a loved on with a Spinal Cord Injury, please call 866-866-8984.

Emergency Management.” Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

Spinal Cord Injury Treatment.” Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation.

Spinal Cord Injury Types.” Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

Figure 1: Nordic Valley Ski Resort. (2015). Risks of Skiing. Retrieved January 13, 2016