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What to know if you have suffered a spinal cord injury from a car accident.

What to Know if You Have Suffered a Spinal Cord Injury From a Car Accident

Car crashes can happen suddenly and change lives forever, especially when someone suffers a spinal cord injury. When a person injures their spinal cord, it greatly impacts their life, changing their future in unexpected ways. A spinal cord injury can be extremely difficult, affecting mobility, independence, emotions, and finances. 

In this blog, we explore spinal cord injuries caused by car accidents. We aim to provide you with insights, guidance, and crucial information that can help you or a loved one navigate this challenging road ahead. 

Whether you’re a survivor seeking guidance on the path to rehabilitation, a caregiver providing support, or simply someone interested in learning more about these life-altering events, this blog aims to shed light on the complexities of spinal cord injuries following car accidents.  

Types of Spinal Cord Injuries 

Spinal cord injuries resulting from car accidents can vary in severity and location along the spinal cord. Typically, experts classify these injuries based on their level and completeness. Here’s a comprehensive list of common spinal cord injuries that can occur because of car accidents: 

Tetraplegia (Quadriplegia)

  • High cervical spinal cord injuries (C1 to C4) can lead to tetraplegia, which affects all four limbs and the torso. 
  • The extent of paralysis depends on the specific level of the injury. 
  • Individuals with tetraplegia may require assistance with daily activities, including breathing if the injury is high enough.

Paraplegia

  • Injuries to the middle and lower parts of the spinal cord (T1 to S5) can cause paraplegia. Paraplegia affects the legs and sometimes the body. 
  • Paraplegic individuals typically retain the use of their upper limbs and may use wheelchairs for mobility.

Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries

  • Spinal cord injuries are incomplete if there is some preserved function below the injury level. 
  • Some injuries may cause problems with movement and feeling, and the chances of getting better can be different.

Complete Spinal Cord Injuries

  • Complete injuries indicate that there is no motor or sensory function below the level of the injury. 
  • These injuries often result in permanent and total paralysis below the affected level.

Anterior Cord Syndrome

  • Injury to the front of the spinal cord can cause loss of movement and feeling of pain and temperature. 
  • Preserving some degree of touch and position sense is possible. 

Central Cord Syndrome

  • This injury primarily affects the center of the spinal cord and often occurs in older individuals. 
  • Motor weakness is more pronounced in the upper limbs compared to the lower limbs. 

Brown-Sequard Syndrome

  • This rare syndrome results from damage to one side (hemisection) of the spinal cord. 
  • It can cause motor weakness on one side of the body and loss of pain and temperature sensation on the opposite side. 

Conus Medullaris Syndrome

  • Injuries at the bottom of the spinal cord conus medullaris) can affect the bowels, bladder, and sexual function. They can also cause weakness in the legs. 

Spinal Cord Contusions

  • Contusions are spinal cord bruises that can cause different levels of nerve damage based on how severe the injury is. 

Spinal Fractures and Dislocations

  • Fractures or dislocations of the vertebrae can compress or damage the spinal cord, leading to a range of injuries. 

Spinal Cord Edema

  • Swelling of the spinal cord after an injury can make the injury worse by compressing and damaging the cord. 

Spinal Cord Lacerations

  • Lacerations or tears of the spinal cord tissue can result in a loss of function at the site of injury and below it. 

Symptoms of a Spinal Cord Injury 

Spinal cord injuries can vary in severity and the symptoms depend on the location and extent of the injury. Common symptoms and signs that may indicate a possible spinal cord injury include: 

Loss of Motor Function

One of the hallmark symptoms of an SCI is a loss of motor function below the level of the injury. This can manifest as paralysis or weakness in the limbs or trunk. 

Loss of Sensation

Individuals with an SCI may experience a loss of sensation or altered sensation below the level of the injury. This can include numbness, tingling, or a “pins and needles” sensation. 

Loss of Reflexes

Diminished or absent reflexes, such as the knee jerk reflex (patellar reflex), can be indicative of a spinal cord injury. 

Difficulty Breathing

Injuries to the upper neck can affect the nerves that control breathing muscles, making it hard to breathe without help. 

Loss of Bladder and Bowel Control

Spinal cord injuries can disrupt the normal functioning of the bladder and bowel, resulting in urinary and fecal incontinence. 

Spasticity

Spasticity refers to muscle stiffness, spasms, or exaggerated reflexes that can occur below the level of the injury. It can lead to muscle tightness and difficulty with movement. 

Changes in Sexual Function

SCI can impact sexual function, causing erectile dysfunction in men and changes in sensation and function in both genders. 

Pain

Individuals with SCIs may experience neuropathic pain, which can be burning, shooting, or stabbing in nature. Pain can occur both at the site of injury and in areas below the injury level. 

Difficulty Regulating Body Temperature

SCI can impair the body’s ability to regulate temperature, leading to increased sensitivity to heat or cold. 

Blood Pressure and Heart Rate Changes

Autonomic dysreflexia is a potentially life-threatening condition that can occur in individuals with SCIs above the level of T6. It is characterized by sudden, severe high blood pressure, sweating, and other symptoms. 

Relevant Medical Specialties to Help With Spinal Cord Injury 

Diagnosing a spinal cord injury (SCI) typically involves a combination of medical examinations, imaging studies, and clinical assessments.  If you have a spinal cord injury, it is crucial to consult a team of medical specialists. They can provide comprehensive care and assistance for various aspects of your condition. The types of medical specialties you should consider consulting with may include: 

Neurosurgeon

Neurosurgeons are experts in the surgical treatment of spinal cord injuries. They can assess the need for surgery, perform spinal decompression or stabilization procedures, and manage acute complications related to the injury. 

Orthopedic Surgeon

Orthopedic surgeons specialize in the musculoskeletal system and can address fractures, dislocations, and other skeletal injuries often associated with spinal cord injuries. They may also be involved in surgical interventions to stabilize the spine. 

Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) Physician

PM&R physicians, also known as physiatrists, focus on optimizing function and quality of life for individuals with disabilities. They coordinate rehabilitation programs and therapies to improve mobility and function. 

Neurologist

Neurologists diagnose and manage neurological conditions, including spinal cord injuries. They can help with symptom management, prescribe medications, and address neurological complications such as spasticity and neuropathic pain. 

Spinal Cord Injury Specialist

Some healthcare centers have specialized SCI teams or clinics. The experts have experience in treating spinal cord injuries. They can provide specific care and advice during your recovery. 

Physiotherapist (Physical Therapist)

Physiotherapists work on mobility, strength, and functional rehabilitation. They design exercise programs to help improve muscle strength, flexibility, and overall physical function. 

Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists assist in regaining the skills needed for daily activities, such as dressing, grooming, and cooking. They focus on enhancing independence and quality of life. 

Rehabilitation Nurse

Rehabilitation nurses are trained to care for individuals with spinal cord injuries. They play a crucial role in managing daily medical needs, providing education, and monitoring overall health. 

Pain Management Specialist

People with chronic pain from spinal cord injuries can receive assistance from pain management specialists. These specialists provide various treatments to alleviate discomfort. 

Psychiatrist or Psychologist

Emotional and psychological well-being is an essential part of recovery. Mental health experts help with ways to cope, emotional support, and treatment for depression or anxiety after an SCI. 

Urologist

Spinal cord injuries can impact bladder and bowel function. Urologists specialize in the management of urinary and reproductive system issues and can help with bladder management strategies. 

Respiratory Therapist

If your SCI affects respiratory function, a respiratory therapist can provide guidance on breathing exercises, assistive devices like ventilators, and other respiratory care needs. 

Recovering from a car accident spinal cord injury is tough for individuals. Call the attorneys at Favret Carriere Cronvich, LLC today for a free consultation on your matter. Our experience and knowledge can lighten your burden and help you get your life back. 

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