Just the thought of a spinal cord injury strikes fear into most people, who may imagine the most devastating permanent injuries. As serious as these injuries are, they aren’t always obvious immediately. Loss of sensation can happen right away or slowly spread. Therefore, anyone who has an injury to the head or neck should see a doctor right away. Speedy treatment is the best chance for improving your outcome.
How severe is your spinal cord injury?
A spinal cord injury is caused by damage to or dislocation of vertebrae. Though spinal cord injuries do often result in some permanent issues, these injuries can cover a wide range of severity, defined by how “complete” the injury is. Your injury is “complete” if you lost all feeling and movement below the point of injury. Your injury is “incomplete” if you still have some feeling and movement in those areas. Of course, many people worry about having a “complete” injury, which can result in paralysis.
Here are seven symptoms your doctor will look for to determine what level of injury you may have:
- Reduced sensation. For example, you may have less of a sense of touch or no longer feel cold or heat.
- Reduced movement. This may also include balance and walking issues.
- Reduced breathing. This may include the ability to cough or clear your lungs.
- Spasms. You may have problems with reflexes.
- Reduced bladder or bowel control.
- Pain or stinging. Damage to nerve fibers can cause pain in the back, head, or neck, or pain or pressure in a band around the chest.
- Reduced sexual function. This may include changes in sensitivity and fertility.
In an emergency
If you witness or are involved in an accident and you think someone could have an injury to their back or neck, follow these guidelines:
- Do not move them. Keep the person as still as possible. Movement can complicate their injuries. You could place towels on both sides of the neck to keep it from moving.
- Call 911. Follow any instructions the dispatcher gives you until emergency help arrives.
- Give first aid. You can still help with basic aid such as caring for wounds without moving their head or neck.
Spinal cord injuries can be frustrating and scary. The good news is, the medical profession is improving treatments for these life-changing injuries all the time. Seeking treatment right away will improve your odds for regaining control of your body and your life.