A spinal cord injury usually begins with a sudden, traumatic blow to the spine that fractures or dislocates vertebrae. The spine is injured when displaced bone fragments, disc material or ligaments bruise or tear into spinal cord tissue.
A spine injury doesn’t necessarily sever the spinal cord. Instead, the injury may cause fractures and compression of the vertebrae. This can destroy nerve cells that carry signals along the spinal cord between the brain and the rest of the body. Most of the spinal cord damage occurs at the time of the spine injury, although swelling in the first 24 hours may worsen the condition, either temporarily or permanently. Some injuries will allow almost complete recovery. Others will leave a patient paralyzed.
Symptoms of Spinal Injury
Symptoms of a spine injury include loss of movement or feeling. Spinal cord injuries are classified as “complete” or “incomplete.” In complete injuries, all motor activities (movement) of body parts and all sensory feelings (touch, pain, temperature) below the injury site are permanently lost. In an incomplete injury, some movement or feeling below the injury site is present. Patients have a greater possibility to recover lost functions but no guarantee.
Diagnosing Spinal Injuries at Sentara
In order to diagnose your injury, our specialists may do one or more of the following:
- Check your breathing and other vital signs
- Perform a neurological examination to determine how much of the spinal cord has been damaged and how much sensory, motor and reflex function has been lost
- Examine you for damage to other areas, including the head and heart
- Order an imaging test. An electrocardiogram (EKG) can check for cardiac complications. X-rays will be taken of the spine.