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Even though many people assume that a spinal cord injury either has already ‘occurred’ after an accident or is not going to get worse, it is important to recognize that in order to achieve the maximum healing benefits following a spinal cord injury, immediate medical care is crucial. This is why it is always impossible to seek immediate attention, even if you do not believe that the trauma was severe.

Treatment of a spinal cord injury starts early

In order to give you a better understanding of why immediate treatment matters, we will go through the process that patients experiences from the moment the patient experiences the injury. After the emergency medical personnel arrive on the scene, they make their initial evaluation of the injury. After that, they will need to immobilize the patient for transportation to the hospital. It is important that ambulance professionals take the utmost care in securing a victim. Incorrect techniques could possibly exacerbate the injury.

The moment the injury happens and for some days after, the spinal cord responds to the trauma by swelling. Treatment often begins with taking medication that can help reduce the swelling. Oftentimes this is already done by trained EMTs. By reducing the inflammation on the injured area, it may be possible to prevent cellular membrane damage. This could help prevent nerve death if administered quickly enough.

It is important to recognize that every patient has a unique injury. Some may require surgery to remove tissue that causes nerve compression, correct a gross misalignment, or in order to stabilize the spine. Some patients may be placed in traction to ensure that there is no further movement, which may help the injury heal naturally.  Only medical professionals should make this determination.

Spinal cord shock

If trauma is responsible for a spinal cord injury, the body enters into spinal shock. While this starts just minutes after the initial injury occurs, it may take several hours before the full effects kick in. This is one of the reasons that many patients hold off on seeking medical treatment, because they do not believe their injury is severe. This could mean that the patient may initially be able to control his or her legs, but slowly starts to notice that they are unable to move their extremities as before.

When the body goes into spinal shock, the nervous system cannot transmit signals. While this ability may return once spinal shock has subsided, there is no guarantee. This can take anywhere from four to six weeks after the trauma. In rare cases, spinal shock could last several months. This is going to influence the patient’s sensation, movement, and bodily system function. This may lead to a loss of sensation and movement below the injury level. Because bodily shock may mask the extent of the damage, it is impossible for physicians to determine with any accuracy whether the patient is dealing with permanent paralysis or has a chance of recovery.

Getting surgery within eight hours

If surgery is required, medical professionals often want to have started the surgery within eight hours of the initial trauma. Surgery may be an option if the spine requires stabilization or if the spinal cord is compressed.

A number of different reasons, including a hematoma, a herniated disc, or vertebrae that is misaligned from the force of injury, may cause spinal cord compression. Spinal fusion and spinal instrumentation may provide permanent stability to the spinal column. These will solidify, join, or correct the location where the spinal element is removed or damaged.

Healing the spine without surgery

Of course, surgery is not the only option when it comes to broken bones in the back or neck. A less invasive procedure is to use halo traction to allow the bones to heal naturally. Keep in mind that this approach is not always possible and make take upwards of two months of complete bed rest.

Focusing on recovery

Once the patient is stabilized after the trauma and possible surgery, the focus shifts to rehabilitation and supportive care. Supportive care can come in the form of family members, caregivers, or nurses. Care may include helping them change positions in bed in order to prevent bedsores, helping them get dressed, helping them bathe, or any other assistance that they need. Rehabilitation often includes counseling for emotional support, occupational therapy, and physical therapy. These three all provide a specific area of support for the patient to meet their new needs.

  • Occupational therapy (OT) – This area of rehab helps the patient to deal with the changes in his or her everyday life. It encourages independence (where possible) to help the patient with  activities of daily living, including going to the bathroom, preparing food, bathing, getting dressed, and many others.
  • Physiotherapy or physical therapy (PT) – This may help maintain body functions, restore coordination, mobility, flexibility, and muscle strength through exercise. These may include hydrotherapy and massages to help relieve pain.
  • Emotional support – Especially in the event of an accident, a quick moment may have altered the person’s life forever. It may be beneficial for them to have someone to talk to about their new challenges and their capacity of dealing with these new challenges.

Make sure that you seek medical help

Even a minor fall that seems relatively harmless at first may cause serious damage to the spinal cord. It is important to seek immediate medical attention if you or someone close to you suffers a spinal cord injury. The first thing to do is seek medical attention right away – and then speak with a qualified personal injury lawyer.

Remember that spinal injuries may affect the entire body. Because it serves as the main conduit of messages for the body’s nervous system, any damage throughout the channel would make it impossible or difficult for the message to be carried from our brain to other parts of the body. A spinal cord injury could change someone’s life forever in a split second. If someone else’s negligence caused your spinal cord injury, it may be possible to recover monetary damages.