The spinal cord is the central bundle of nerves which travels through a bony canal extending from the brain. Nerves which branch peripherally from the cord are responsible for transmitting signals between the brain and the rest of the body. A spinal cord injury may occur as the result of a sudden, traumatic blow to the spine, causing bone fractures with compression of the spinal cord by bone fragments or a ligamentous injury with dislocation of the bones resulting in misalignment and damage to the cord.
In some cases, the injury is severe and clearly evident from the beginning. In these cases, early treatment is critical in reducing the extent of the injury. In very rare cases, rapid early intervention may prevent paralysis.
In other cases, the injury is more subtle. Signs and symptoms of a spinal cord injury can include:
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of coordination
- Loss of movement
- Tingling, numbness or loss of sensation
- Loss of bowel or bladder function
- Difficulty breathing
In some patients, a spinal cord injury may not be immediately apparent. While many individuals are aware of the immediate numbness or paralysis that can occur from a spinal cord injury, it may also develop gradually as a result of bleeding or swelling in the spinal cord. An accurate diagnosis and proper treatment are essential and may determine the extent of recovery.