According to the Reeve Foundation, the number of people in the United States who are living with a Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) is estimated to be approximately 273,000. One of the most commonly sustained injuries in automobile accidents, SCIs vary with each person and, as a result, can be very complex.

What is a Spinal Cord Injury?

Contrary to popular belief, the spinal cord does not have to be severed in order for a loss of function to occur. The most common causes of spinal cord injuries are: car accidents, falls, shallow diving, acts of violence, and sports injuries. Spinal damage can also occur from birth as well as from tumors, electric shock, and loss of oxygen.

Since the spinal cord coordinates body movement and sensation, if your spinal cord is bruised, stretched, or crushed as the result of an injury, it could lose the ability to send and receive messages from the brain to the body, diminishing or eliminating sensory, motor, and autonomic function. This is why SCIs often lead to paralysis, because they involve damage to the nerves within the spinal canal.

According to the Mayo Clinic, spinal cord injuries come in two categories:

Complete: Most all feeling and all ability to control movement are lost below the spinal cord injury.
Incomplete: Some motor or sensory function loss below the affected area. There are varying degrees of incomplete injury.
Signs of a Spinal Cord Injury

Impacts to the back, head and neck, and even falling or twisting can cause the spinal cord to be injured. Your prognosis with spinal cord injury depends largely on two factors: the placement of injury along the spine and the severity of injury to the actual spinal cord. Common symptoms include:

Loss of movement
Tingling in the fingers or toes or throughout the body
Difficulty with balance and walking
Loss of sensation, including the ability to feel heat, cold and touch
Loss of bowel or bladder control
Exaggerated reflex activities or spasms
Changes in sexual function, sexual sensitivity and fertility
Difficulty breathing post injury
Numbness, tingling or loss of sensation in your hands, fingers, feet or toes
Extreme back pain or pressure in your neck, head or back
Weakness, loss of coordination or paralysis in any part of your body
Oddly positioned or twisted neck or back, immediately following injury

If you or someone you love is experiencing any of the symptoms above following an accident, blow, fall or other injury, it’s important to seek treatment immediately. Seeing your healthcare provider immediately after injury can have a profound effect on how you heal or worsen in symptoms.