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Prisma Health Children's Hospital–Midlands

7 Richland Medical Park Dr.
Columbia, SC 29203

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Spinal Cord Injury

A spinal cord injury usually begins with a sudden, traumatic blow to the spine that fractures or dislocates vertebrae. The damage begins at the moment of injury when displaced bone fragments, disc material, or ligaments bruise or tear into spinal cord tissue.

Most injuries to the spinal cord don't completely sever it. Instead, an injury is more likely to cause fractures and compression of the vertebrae, which then crush and destroy axons — extensions of nerve cells that carry signals up and down the spinal cord between the brain and the rest of the body. An injury to the spinal cord can damage a few, many, or almost all of these axons. Some injuries will allow almost complete recovery. Others will result in complete paralysis.

Prognosis

Spinal cord injuries are classified as either complete or incomplete.  An incomplete injury means that the ability of the spinal cord to convey messages to or from the brain is not completely lost. People with incomplete injuries retain some motor or sensory function below the injury. A complete injury is indicated by a total lack of sensory and motor function below the level of injury. People who survive a spinal cord injury may have medical complications such as spasticity, inability to move legs or sometimes arms or bladder and bowel dysfunction. Successful recovery depends upon how well these conditions are handled day to day.

Treatment

Improved emergency care for people with spinal cord injuries and aggressive treatment and rehabilitation can minimize damage to the nervous system and even restore limited abilities. Respiratory complications are often an indication of the severity of spinal cord injury  About one-third of those with injury to the neck area will need help with breathing and require respiratory support. Children or teens with upper neck injuries are likely to need help with breathing and require respiratory support. Surgery to relieve compression of the spinal tissue by surrounding bones broken or dislocated by the injury is often necessary, through timing of such surgery may vary widely.

Rehabilitation programs combine physical therapies with skill-building activities and counseling to provide social and emotional support. Most children and teens with spinal cord injury require a comprehensive, interdisciplinary inpatient rehabilitation program to maximize recovery and function. Pediatric physiatrists prescribe programs, therapies, medications, and equipment to help maximize recovery and function in an inpatient rehabilitation program, and throughout early adulthood.

NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

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