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Spinal Cord Injuries: Common Symptoms, Treatment, and Long-Term Care

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Spinal cord injuries have a variety of different symptoms, depending on the type, location and severity of the injury. Understanding and recognizing the potential symptoms could help you or somebody you know avoid further injury or life-changing disabilities. Symptoms tend to be experienced at the point of and below the affected spine level, and can be mild, severe, or life-threatening. Here’s everything you need to know.

Standard Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of a spinal cord injury may be obvious straight away or be delayed due to swelling and bleeding in or around the spinal cord. The most commonly experienced symptoms of a spinal cord injury include pain, numbness, and/or a burning sensation around or below the affected area, difficulty walking or inability to walk, difficulty moving or using the extremities, loss of bladder or bowl control, involuntary muscle spasms, inability to feel heat, cold, or pressure, or difficulty breathing. If you or somebody you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, you should visit the ER as soon as possible.

Symptoms by Injury Location

The location of the injury to the spinal cord can determine the type of symptoms that the patient experiences. Damage to the spinal cord in the cervical area of the spine is considered to be the most dangerous as it can be life-threatening. Typical symptoms of damage to the cervical spinal cord will affect the arms, legs, body, and even the ability to breathe unaided. The higher up the injury, the more severe it will be. Symptoms may be felt on only one or both sides of the body. In cases of severe damage, cervical spinal injuries can lead to life-changing conditions or disabilities such as anterior cord syndrome. Other areas that may be damaged are the lumbar and thoracic spine; these usually lead to symptoms felt in one or both legs but can also affect blood pressure and bladder and bowel control.

Immediate Treatment

Seeking medical help as quickly as possible is key to a successful recovery from a spinal cord injury. Today, even in cases of severe injuries, acting fast can help you facilitate suitable treatment as early as possible to increase your likelihood of a full recovery. If you or somebody that you know is showing any symptoms of a spinal cord injury, it’s crucial to see a doctor at the earliest possible convenience.

Long-Term Care

In some cases, severe spinal cord injuries can lead to life-changing disabilities and health conditions which require more long-term care and support. In some cases, patients can eventually enjoy a full recovery, whilst others will need to adapt for the rest of their life. Some successful long-term treatment options for severely affected patients include physical, speech, recreational, and occupational therapy. In some cases, surgery can help to ease spinal cord compression and encourage recovery. Wearing a soft collar, taking part in specially designed exercises, or using steroid medications are some non-surgical alternatives.

Understanding how to recognize a spinal cord injury and what to do could save your life or someone else’s.

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