There are an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 new spinal cord injuries every year in the United States and there are a quarter of a million Americans who are currently living with spinal cord injuries. The cost of managing the care of these spinal cord injury patients approaches $4 billion each year. More than 80% of the patients are men, with the majority of all patients being between the ages 16 and 30 years old (www.spinalcord.uab.edu).
Spinal cord injury occurs when a part of the spinal’s vertebrate is broken or dislocated and the soft tissues are damaged. The severity of the injury depends on what part of the spinal cord suffers the injury. The segment of the cord that is injured, and the severity of the injury, will determine which body functions are compromised or lost. Because the spinal cord acts as the main information pathway between the brain and the rest of the body, a spinal cord injury can have significant physiological consequences. One of the worst outcomes of spinal cord injury is paralysis of most of the body including the arms and legs, called quadriplegia.
Fifty years ago, a serious spinal cord injury usually meant certain death, or at best a lifetime confined to a wheelchair and an ongoing struggle to survive secondary complications such as breathing problems or blood clots. But today, improved emergency care for people with spinal cord injuries including aggressive treatment and rehabilitation can minimize damage to the nervous system and even restore limited abilities.
A spinal cord injury affects the entire body. Most patients endure medical complications such as chronic pain and bladder and bowel dysfunction and an increased risk of respiratory and heart problems. Complications with breathing may lead to pneumonia—the leading cause of death in people with spinal cord injury. Irregular heart beats may be caused by circulatory and blood pressure problems and must be frequently monitored. People with spinal cord injuries are at triple the usual risk for blood clots. The risk for clots is low in the first 72 hours, but afterwards anticoagulation drug therapy can be used as a preventive measure. Reflex actions and nerve twitches are common as well as pressure sores (or bed sores) due to limited mobility. Pain management includes medication, acupuncture, spinal or brain electrical stimulation, and surgery. Bowel movements and reproductive/sexual function are also severely affected.
Spinal Cord Injury: Hope through Research
See Website: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center