Condition: Traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) means there is damage to the nerves that run through the backbone (spine). Depending where the injury is and how severe it is, it can lead to partial or complete loss of feeling and control in just the legs (paraplegia) or both the arms and legs (tetraplegia).
Background: Between 12,000 and 20,000 SCIs occur each year, mostly from auto accidents. Violent acts such as gunshots, falls, and sports injuries are other common causes of SCI.
Risk Factors: Men between the ages of 15 and 35 are most likely to have an SCI. Older people also have SCIs because of falls.
History and Symptoms: The paralysis that follows an SCI is usually sudden. There may also be breathing or heart problems, or problems controlling the bladder and bowel. Recovery depends on how severe the injury is. Most improvement is seen in the first 6 months after the injury.
Physical Exam: It is important to keep the back and neck from moving. Your doctor will check muscle tone and reflexes, whether you have lost sensation or have trouble moving parts of your body, and whether your blood pressure and heart rhythm are under control.
Diagnostic Process: Blood tests may show if you are bleeding, have an infection, or if other chemicals in your body are out of balance. X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs may be ordered to show how severe the injury is.
Rehab Management: The goal of rehab is to maintain as much mobility and activity as possible and prevent further injuries. Patients and caregivers need to be educated about safe ways to move and do exercises that will improve strength, balance, and endurance. Assistive devices, ramps, and other changes in the environment may also be helpful.
Other Resources for Patients and Families: The Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) provides support and other resources on their website (www.pva.org) for people with SCI and their caregivers.