What is a Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)?

A spinal cord injury (SCI) usually occurs from a sudden traumatic blow to the spine that fracures or dislocates  vertebrae. Damage occurs at the moment of the injury when displaced bone & ligaments bruise or tear into spinal cord tissue. Most injuries to the spinal cord do not completely sever it. Some injuries result in complete recovery while others may result in complete paralysis.

Fast emergency care, early immobilization, and aggressive rehabilitation are the most important factors in achieving recovery from spinal cord injuries.

The most common cause of spinal cord injury is trauma, such as motor vehicle accidents or gunshot wounds. Spinal cord injuries can also be caused by compression of the cord by a tumor, infection, or inflammation.

Treatment of after a spinal cord injury requires an interdisciplinary approach, a client may be under the care of the following

  • Emergency Room and Hospital Physicians at onset
  • Primary Care Physician
  • Neurologist
  • Nursing
  • Occupational, Physical, and Speech therapists
  • Social Workers and Case Managers
  • Other specialists, such as an ophthalmologist or chiropractors
Effects of SCI depend on location and whether the injury is complete or incomplete. An incomplete injury means that clients have some function below the level of injury while a complete injury has no function.

  • Cervical (Neck) Injuries can lead to muscle weakness in the arms, legs, and core. Symptoms may occur on one side or both sides of the body. A higher neck injury leads to paralysis of breathing muscles.
  • Thoracic (Chest) Injuries can lead to muscle weakness in the core and legs. Chest level injuries also lead to issues with blood pressure and normal body temperature
  • Lumbar (Lower Back) Injuries lead to muscle weakness in one or both legs, as well as muscles that control bowel & bladder function.
Complications may occur with a lack of early intervention or prevention measures (through medical means or via therapy). Some may include the following;

  • Joint Contractures, where a joint does not fully bend or straighten
  • Dislocation of the hips or shoulders
  • Osteoporosis, or thinning of the bone
  • Fractures related to falls and/or osteoporosis
  • Autonomic Hyperreflexia (blood pressure changes)
  • Chronic Kidney Disease
  • Pressure Ulcers
  • Loss of Bladder & Bowel Control
  • Urinary Tract Infections
  • Deep Vein Thrombosis (blood clots)
Although spinal cord injuries are usually from accidents that can happen to anyone, certain factors may lead to a higher risk of sustaining a spinal cord injury.

  • Being Male
  • Being between the ages of 16 and 30, or older than 65
  • Engagement in risky behavior
  • Presence of a bone or joint disorder (such as arthritis or osteoporosis)