The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves and other tissue contained and protected by the vertebrae of the spine. The vertebrae are the bones stacked upon each other to make up the spine which extends from the base of the brain down the back, ending near the buttocks region.
The spinal cord functions by sending signals from the brain to all parts of the body and also the signals from the body to the brain. These signals help us to perceive pain and allow movement of our limbs.
A spinal cord injury, i.e. damage to any part of the spinal cord or nerves at the end of the spinal canal may often cause permanent changes in strength, sensation, and other body functions below the site of the injury. Spinal cord injury is an extremely serious type of physical trauma that is likely to have a lasting and significant impact on most aspects of day-to-day life.
CAUSES OF A SPINAL CORD INJURY:
Injury to the spinal cord can result due to an unpredictable accident or violent event. Various causes may include:
Motor vehicle accidents:
Trauma during a car accident, specifically to the face, head, and neck region, back, or chest area.
Falling from a significant height. A spinal cord injury after age 65 is most often caused by a fall.
Violent attacks such as a stabbing or a gunshot wound, knife wounds.
Sports and recreation injuries:
May include diving into shallow water and hitting the bottom; head or spinal injuries during other sports events.
Various diseases such as cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis, and inflammation of the spinal cord can cause injury to the spinal cord.
Severe twisting of the middle portion of the torso (trunk of the body).
SYMPTOMS OF SPINAL CORD INJURY:
Spinal cord injury can affect in many ways. Various symptoms may include:
• Inability to move the arms or legs.
• Difficulties in walking.
• Loss of control of the bladder or bowels.
• Lost or altered sensations, including the ability to feel heat, cold, and touch. Feelings of spreading numbness or tingling in the extremities.
• Pain, pressure, and stiffness in the vertebral column.
• Abnormal positioning of the head.
• Exaggerated reflex activities or spasms.
• Changes in sexual function, sexual sensitivity, and fertility.
• Difficulty breathing, coughing, or clearing secretions from lungs.
• Signs of shock.
When the patient arrives at the hospital, doctors will do a physical and complete a neurological exam. They perform careful inspection and examination with testing for sensory functions and movement by asking details about any accident and other cause. Diagnostics tests that doctors may do include:
• X-rays of the spine: X-rays can reveal vertebral (spinal column) problems, tumors, fractures, or degenerative changes in the spine.
• Computerized tomography (CT) scan: This scan uses computers to form a series of cross-sectional images that define bone, disk, and other problems.
• Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRI uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to produce computer-generated images. It is very helpful for looking at the spinal cord and identifying herniated disks, blood clots, or other masses that may be compressing the spinal cord.
• Evoked potential testing: It measures how quickly nerve signals reach the brain.
Unfortunately, the damage to the spinal cord is irreversible. However, spinal cord injury treatment aims to prevent further injury and empower people with a spinal cord injury to return to an active and productive life.
Urgent medical attention is most important to minimize the effects of any head or neck trauma. So, treatment for a spinal cord injury usually starts at the scene of the accident.
In the emergency room, doctors focus on maintenance of airway and patient's ability to breathe; prevention of shock, immobilization of neck to prevent further spinal cord damage. They also try to avoid possible complications, such as stool or urine retention, respiratory or cardiovascular difficulty, and the formation of deep vein blood clots in the extremities.
A patient with spinal cord injury will usually be admitted to the intensive care unit for treatment. The patient can also be treated at a regional spine injury center having a team of neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, spinal cord medicine specialists, psychologists, nurses, therapists, and social workers with expertise in spinal cord injury.
The treatment modalities for spinal cord injury may include:
Intravenous (IV) methylprednisolone was earlier used as a treatment option for an acute spinal cord injury in the past. However, it is not recommended nowadays due to its potential side effects, such as blood clots and pneumonia.
Traction helps to stabilize the spine, to bring the spine into proper alignment, or both. In some cases, a rigid neck collar may work. A special bed also may help immobilize your body.
Surgery helps to remove fragments of bones, foreign objects, herniated disks, or fractured vertebrae that appear to be compressing the spine. Surgery may also be needed to stabilize the spine to prevent future pain or deformity.
The rehabilitation team helps in the early stages of recovery. They may include a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, a rehabilitation nurse, a rehabilitation psychologist, a social worker, a dietitian, a recreation therapist, and a doctor who specializes in physical medicine (physiatrist) or spinal cord injuries. They help in the maintenance and strengthening of existing muscle function, redeveloping fine motor skills, and learning adaptive techniques to accomplish day-to-day tasks. They help in rebuilding life and increasing the quality of life and independence. The patient is encouraged to resume their favorite hobbies, participate in social and fitness activities, and return to school or the workplace. They are encouraged to stay physically active by doing some outdoor exercises, yoga, etc.
Yoga is an important area of physical activity for people with spinal cord injuries. This is a complete physical, spiritual and mental activity that can be practiced at different levels and it makes a huge difference to the individual’s sense of health and wellbeing. Yoga can be easily adapted to the individual’s needs. It can be practiced anywhere and benefits can be gained from it almost immediately. One of the important benefits of yoga is that it concentrates on the process of breathing and helps to improve lung capacity. It also helps to improve posture, fix balance promotes greater flexibility, focus better and feel calmer, helps to have a more restful sleep. With improved mobility, the risk of secondary health complications such as pressure sores is lowered.
It is important to note that yoga may not be good for everyone with a spinal cord injury. So, it becomes important to consult the medical professional before engaging in this type of physical activity.
While doing yoga, one should not overexert. One should never try to overextend or go beyond their natural mobility. Always focus on breathing, as this can produce really beneficial effects for the sense of wellbeing and mental health. There are many different ways to exercise following a spinal cord injury, but yoga is certainly one of the most beneficial as it helps all-around health.