What is a Spinal Cord Injury?

The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that extends from the base of your brain down to your lower back. These nerves are responsible for the conduction of signals from your brain to the rest of your body to help in its various functions. It is protected by a bony canal formed by vertebrae arranged one above the other as any injury to these nerves can disrupt normal functions. Spinal cord injuries may occur due to:

  • Direct trauma to the spinal cord caused by motor vehicle accidents, falls, assault (gunshot and knife wounds) or during sports or recreational activities
  • Diseases in the surrounding tissues such as arthritis, osteoporosis, bone fracture or dislocation, inflammation of spinal cord and cancer, which can compress the nerve fibers

Damage to the nerves can be complete, where there is a complete loss of sensation and function (paralysis) in the regions supplied by the nerves below the level of injury, or incomplete, where there is limited sensation and movement in the levels below the injury. Depending on the region and extent of injury, symptoms can be seen immediately or develop gradually, and may include loss of sensation, loss of movement, spasm and pain to the region supplied by the injured nerve, loss of bowel or bladder control, and changes in sexual function. The emergency signs may include difficulty in balance, weakness, numbness or paralysis and difficulty with breathing.

What are my Treatment Options for a Spinal Cord Injury?

Before surgery, your doctor will perform a complete physical examination to make sure you don’t have any conditions that could interfere with the surgery or the outcomes. Routine tests, such as blood tests and X-rays, are usually performed a week before any major surgery.

  • Discuss any medications you are taking with your doctor and your family physician to see which ones you should stop taking before surgery
  • Discuss with your doctor about options for preparing for potential blood replacement, includes donating your own blood, medical interventions and other treatments, prior to surgery
  • If you are overweight, losing weight before surgery will help decrease the stress you place on your new joint. However, you should not diet during the month before your surgery
  • If you are taking aspirin or anti-inflammatory medications or warfarin or any drugs that increase the risk of bleeding you will need to stop taking them one week before surgery to minimize bleeding
  • If you smoke, you should stop or cut down to reduce your surgery risks and improve your recovery
  • Have any tooth, gum, bladder or bowel problems treated before surgery to reduce the risk of infection later
  • Eat a well-balanced diet, supplemented by a daily multivitamin with iron
  • Report any infections to your surgeon. Surgery cannot be performed until all infections have cleared up
  • Arrange for someone to help out with everyday tasks like cooking, shopping and laundry
  • Put items that you use often within easy reach before surgery so you won’t have to reach and bend as often
  • Remove all loose carpets and tape down electrical cords to avoid falls
  • Make sure you have a stable chair with a firm seat cushion, a firm back and two arms