Unfortunately, motor vehicle accidents occur at an alarming rate. The National Highway Traffic Administration estimates that a motor vehicle accident (MVA) occurs about every 60 seconds. One of the most devastating injuries of an MVA is a spinal cord injury. According to a 2016 report by the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, in the United States, about 17,000 people suffer a new spinal cord injury each year. Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of injury.
What is a Spinal Cord Injury?
The spine is a boney, tube-like structure that is comprised of bundles of nerves. Axons, which are extensions of the nerve cells, carry messages or signals throughout the spinal cord from the brain to the rest of the body. The spinal cord is like a highway, which allows signals for movements and sensation.
Vertebrae are the bones, which surround and protect the spinal cord. When sudden trauma to the spinal column occurs due to a car accident, it can dislocate or fracture the vertebrae. Displaced bone fragments can tear, compress or bruise the spinal cord tissue and nerves damaging the axons. Additionally, inflammation and bleeding can also damage the nerves.
When the nerves of the spinal cord are damaged, it affects movement and feeling. The extent of the damage depends on the part of the cord injured and whether the injury is complete or incomplete.
An incomplete injury means the spinal cord is still able to send some signals from the brain to the body. People with incomplete injuries often retain some feeling and movement below their injury. A complete injury involves a total lack of motor function and feeling below the injury.
How Does a Spinal Cord Injury Impact Functioning?
A spinal cord injury impacts lifestyle, independence, and level of functioning. It can affect everything from your job to activities of daily living.
The effect a spinal cord injury has on a person’s daily life depends on the severity of the injury. For example, some people may only have weakness in their lower extremities, and they may heal over time. In other cases, a spinal cord injury can lead to quadriplegia, which means a person is paralyzed from the neck down. Some people who have quadriplegia cannot breathe on their own and are ventilator dependent for the rest of their lives.
Spinal cord injuries can also affect sexual function and bladder and bowel control. People with spinal cord injuries may be more likely to develop infections, such as pneumonia and urinary tract infections. Plus, when they do develop an infection, they are at an increased risk of complications.
But a spinal cord injury does not only have a physical impact. The injury also affects emotional and financial well-being. The cost of treatment and rehabilitation for spinal cord injuries can add up to millions of dollars. In some cases, depending on the severity, vocational rehabilitation may be needed. In other instances, people who suffer a spinal cord injury may no longer be able to work.
Treatment for spinal cord injuries
Currently, there is no treatment to reverse nerve damage to the spinal cord. In some cases, if the injury is incomplete, function may return to varying degrees. Treatment focuses on stabilizing the patient, preventing further cord damage and providing rehabilitation. The following treatment may be used:
Surgery: Surgery may be needed to remove tissue or bone fragments that are pressing on the cord. In some instances, surgery will be performed to fuse broken vertebra.
Steroids: Steroids may be administered to decrease swelling and inflammation near the injury site.
Physical therapy: Physical therapy is often recommended for people who have spinal cord injuries. Therapy may improve strength and mobility in some cases. In other instances, therapy is geared towards teaching patients how to use assistive devices, such as wheelchairs or leg braces.
Occupational therapy: Occupational is given to help patients improve fine motor skills and develop new ways to perform activities of daily living, such as grooming and dressing.
The prognosis for someone who has a spinal cord injury varies. Ongoing rehabilitation and treatment may be needed for years. At home care and assistance may also be required for a lifetime. A person’s lifestyle, goals, and future may look different after a spinal cord injury, especially severe injuries.
If the actions or negligence of another driver has caused a spinal cord injury, we may be able to help. Please call our office at 312-698-3694 for a free consultation with one of our top-rated attorneys.