Spine trauma, or a spinal cord injury, is damage to any part of the spinal cord or the nerves that are at the end of the spinal canal. This type of injury often causes permanent changes in strength or sensation and can affect bodily functions below the site of the injury. After an injury to the spinal cord, the ability for an individual to control their limbs will depend on the location of the injury and its severity.
The severity of a spinal cord injury is classified as either “complete” or “incomplete.” A complete spinal cord injury is one where all feeling and all ability to control movement are lost below the injury. An incomplete spinal cord injury is one where there is still some motor or sensory function below the affected area. There are varying degrees of an incomplete spinal cord injury.
Paralysis that results from spine trauma may be referred to as “tetraplegia” or “paraplegia.” Tetraplegia is also known as quadriplegia, and means that the arm, hands, trunk, legs, and pelvic organs have all been affected by the spinal cord injury.
Spinal trauma of any kind can result in loss of movement, loss or altered sensation that includes the inability to feel heat, cold, or touch, loss of bowel or bladder control, exaggerated reflexes or spasms, changes in sexual function, sensitivity, or fertility, pain or intense stinging, and difficulty breathing, coughing, or clearing secretions from the lungs.
Any person who experiences trauma to the head or neck should seek immediate medical care to be evaluated for a spinal cord injury. Signs of spinal trauma may not be immediately apparent, so it is assumed that accident victims have suffered a spinal injury until it is proved otherwise. Emergency signs or symptoms of a spinal cord injury after an accident can include extreme back pain or pressure in the neck, head, or back, weakness, incoordination, or paralysis in any part of the body, numbness, tingling, or loss of sensation in the hands, fingers, feet, or toes, loss of bladder or bowel control, difficulty with balance and walking, impaired breathing, and an oddly positioned or twisted neck or back.