A spinal cord injury results from damage to the spinal cord itself or the tissue and bones that surround the spinal cord. These cells and nerves send and receive signals from the brain to the rest of the body. As a result, a spinal cord injury often causes permanent changes to bodily functions below the site of the injury.
Spinal cord injuries can either be a complete or incomplete injury, and often represent a life-altering event. A complete spinal cord injury means there is no sensation or motor function below the area of injury. An incomplete spinal cord injury means that there may be sensation below the area of injury. For example, an incomplete paraplegic may feel some sensation in a leg. Despite this feeling, they are unable to use that leg in any meaningful way. An incomplete injury usually features some compression or injury to your spinal cord and can result in a loss of bowel and bladder control, problems sensing heat or cold, a pins and needles sensation in the arms or legs or a loss of function in your torso or limbs.
Two main types of traumatic spinal cord injuries may result in permanent impairment:
Quadriplegia or tetraplegia is paralysis causing the partial or complete loss of the use of the limbs and torso.
Paraplegia is paralysis causing the partial or complete loss of the use of the legs and torso. The arms are not typically impacted by paraplegia.
In addition to pain and limitations placed on a person with a spinal cord injury, they are also at greater risk for further injury — because of their disability. The victim may also require significant medical and rehabilitation support, as well as assistance with everyday tasks such as using the bathroom, dressing or preparing a simple meal. In the cases of the most severe spinal cord injuries, a 24-hour attendant may be required.
While there is no cure for quadriplegia or paraplegia, many things can be done to help improve the quality of life of someone with a spinal cord injury. These include therapy and treatment to increase strength and mobility of the parts of the body that have sensation, and adopting new techniques and strategies to complete activities of daily living independently.
In addition to treatment, a variety of other measures can be taken to improve the quality of life and independence of a person with a spinal cord injury. These can include receiving assistance from a dietician to ensure that a balanced diet is being consumed, receiving a vehicle modified to allow for operation via hand controls or even home modifications that allow a person with a spinal cord injury to live independently.
In order to confront the issues presented by a spinal cord injury, a multidisciplinary team is needed. Most times, these consist of not only specialized physicians, but physiotherapists, occupational therapists and rehabilitation support workers.