At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

What is Spinal Cord Trauma?

N. Swensson
N. Swensson

A spinal cord trauma is damage or injury to the spinal cord that partially or completely severs it. Many things can cause a spinal cord injury, including car accidents, sports-related injuries, or an existing medical condition like osteoporosis. Spinal cord trauma is very serious and usually requires immediate medical treatment to minimize lasting effects, which can include weakness, paralysis, and a number of other problems depending on which part of the spine is affected. Medical treatment for spinal cord trauma usually includes initial measures to relieve the acute injury followed by extensive rehabilitative therapy. The prognosis for this type of injury can vary widely depending on the individual case.

An injury-related spinal cord trauma generally results from a severe blow or impact that shatters or splits vertebrae. In some cases, a person with a weakened or damaged spine due to conditions like osteoporosis or rheumatoid arthritis can have a minor accident or fall that results in a spinal cord injury. Other conditions that cause excessive fluid or blood to build up in the spinal column can also cause damage to the spinal cord. If it is fully or partially severed, the spinal cord can no longer convey impulses to other parts of the body. This can result in loss of many different bodily functions.

Vertebrae and the spinal cord.
Vertebrae and the spinal cord.

The effects of spinal cord trauma can vary greatly depending on which area of the spine is affected and the extent of the damage. People with damage to the upper spine often experience difficulty breathing as one of the most serious symptoms. These cases may require temporary or permanent use of a ventilator or other breathing support. An injury to any part of the spinal cord may also cause paralysis, weakness, and incontinence. The body parts below the area of injury will be the ones affected.

Spinal cord trauma may cause paralysis.
Spinal cord trauma may cause paralysis.

Prompt medical attention is usually very important in reducing the damage from spinal cord trauma. Steroid medications such as methylprednisolone can help to reduce swelling, but are most effective if given promptly after an injury. Parts of the body may also be immobilized to reduce further damage and speed healing. After the initial trauma, aggressive programs of physical therapy and rehabilitation can help to reduce permanent paralysis and other effects. Unfortunately, lasting damage is usually inevitable if the spinal cord has been severed fully, though some therapies can help a person to better cope with the disability.

Discuss this Article

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • Vertebrae and the spinal cord.
      By: Alexandr Mitiuc
      Vertebrae and the spinal cord.
    • Spinal cord trauma may cause paralysis.
      By: blueringmedia
      Spinal cord trauma may cause paralysis.
    • A patient with a spinal cord injury may need a ventilator to breathe.
      By: sudok1
      A patient with a spinal cord injury may need a ventilator to breathe.
    • Spinal cord trauma might lead to paralysis.
      By: joyb0218
      Spinal cord trauma might lead to paralysis.