Spinal Cord Injury

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According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, spinal cord injuries usually begin with sudden, traumatic blows to the spine that fracture or dislocate vertebrae.

Warning Signs

Spinal cord injuries do not always generate immediate signs or symptoms; injuries may appear gradually as bleeding and swelling continue to occur around the spinal cord. Anyone who has experienced trauma to the head or neck should seek immediate medical treatment, even if there are no immediate, obvious symptoms. The time between the injury and treatment is critical in determining the extent of the injuries and the prognosis for recovery.

Symptoms of a spinal cord injury may include:

  • Loss of movement or sensation;
  • Loss of bladder control;
  • Exaggerated reflexes or spasms;
  • Changes in sexual functioning;
  • Pain or intense stinging sensations;
  • Numbness, tingling or loss of sensation;
  • Difficulty breathing, coughing or clearing lungs;
  • Weakness or paralysis;
  • Difficulty with balance and walking; and
  • Impaired breathing.

Diagnosis & Care

Whenever a person suffers trauma to the head or neck, a spinal cord injury must be suspected until proven otherwise. Immediately following the injury, the spine and neck should be immobilized until the individual can be thoroughly examined by a physician. Medical professionals use x-rays, CT scans, MRI’s, and myelography to look for damage to the vertebrae. Doctors also test for sensory function and movement. The level of a spinal cord injury is diagnosed when a physician first evaluates a patient, but generally injuries improve with rehabilitation.

Expenses

A spinal cord injury can create tremendous financial stress for those who are injured and their families. The costs associated with spinal cord injuries can be astronomical, but vary greatly depending on the severity of the injury. Expenses may include medical care, hospital bills, attendant care, medical equipment, and specialized supplies and medications. Lifetime expenses for spinal cord injury victims depend on the type of injury, age at the time of injury, and life expectancy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate the lifetime cost for medical treatment and rehabilitation to be between $500,000 and $3 million.

Many spinal cord injuries result from someone else’s error (i.e. criminal action, surgical error, birth injury, automobile accidents, construction mishaps, chemical exposure, defective products). If you or a loved one suffered a spinal cord injury due to someone else’s negligence, our medical malpractice lawyers may be able to recover compensation for both the victim and loved ones for medical expenses and other damages that resulted from the injury. Compensation generally covers hospitalization, lost wages, funeral expenses, and pain and suffering. The family of a spinal cord injury victim who died as a result of the injury can file a wrongful death suit. Contact the Law Offices of Wais, Vogelstein, Forman & Offutt for a consultation.

Treatement Centers

Spinal cord injuries can cause changes to virtually every part of the body and unfortunately, there is no way to reverse damage to the spinal cord once it has been done. Generally, functioning is at its worst immediately after the injury occurs. With proper medical care, some victims regain some level of prior functioning after days or weeks as swelling goes down. According to the Spinal Cord Injury Resource Center, those with less severe injuries can continue to recover functioning as long as 18 months after the injury. Respiratory complications indicate the severity of a spinal cord injury; about one-third of those with injuries to the neck area require respiratory support.

Extensive research has lead to new and innovative treatments, prostheses, and medications that promote cell regeneration. Steroid drugs such as methylprednisolone reduce swelling if given within eight hours after the injury is sustained. Rehabilitation programs combine physical therapy with skill-building activities and counseling to provide social and emotional support. These programs focus on preventing further injury and empowering people to return to active and productive lives.

Books & Resources

For more information on spinal cord injuries, the following resources are available:

  • Mayo Clinic, Spinal Cord Injury
  • Ninds Spinal Cord Injury Information Page
  • Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation
  • “The Spinal Cord Injury Handbook for Patients and Their Families” by Richard C. Senelick & Karla Dougherty
  • “Spinal Cord Injury and the Family: A New Guide” (Harvard University Press Family Health Guidelines) by Michelle J. Alpert MD, Saul Wisnia, & Cindy and Ted Purcell
  • “Spinal Cord Injury: A Guide for Living” (A Johns Hopkins Press Health Book) by Sara Palmer, Kay Harris Kriegsman, & Jeffrey B. Palmer
  • “Mayo Clinic Guide to Living with a Spinal Cord Injury: Moving Ahead with Your Life” by The Mayo Clinic
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