Spinal Injury Q & A

Robin Bhatia, Consultant Spinal Neurosurgeon here at Shalbourne, answers some questions and advises how to reduce the risk of injuring the spinal cord.

Q. How can spinal injuries be caused?

The spinal cord can be injured in a number of ways. In the UK the commonest causes are falls, road traffic accidents and sporting injuries. High impact sports such as rugby, American football and horse racing are associated with spinal cord injury.

Q. What should make you suspect that you might have injured your spine?

If you have sustained a traumatic injury and have symptoms such as: spinal pain and numbness, persistent tingling and/or power loss in your arms and legs you should suspect a spinal cord injury and seek immediate help. Sometimes you can be temporarily or permanently paralysed from the neck or waist down and lose bladder/ bowel function too.

Q. Can you recover feeling and movement after injuring your spine?

Yes, you can recover feeling and movement after injuring your spine, sometimes immediately afterwards, and sometimes after a delayed period and/or medical intervention.

Q. What treatments are spinal patients offered?

Spinal injury patients should in the immediate setting be offered basic resuscitation in accordance with the principals of Advanced Trauma and Life Support. After this, spinal patients may be taken to a hospital where they could have spinal surgery; intensive care unit treatment; spinal injury nursing and referral to a spinal injury rehabilitation unit.

Q. Can people develop spinal cord injuries without undergoing a traumatic incident?

Yes, the spinal cord can become injured due to spinal degenerative disease, which is commonly a long-term process of 'wear and tear' culminating in compression and causes direct damage and loss of the blood supply to the spinal cord.

Q. Can the spinal cord heal at all (or be repaired), or is all the damage to it permanent?

Unfortunately, the spinal cord can only to a very limited degree repair itself, unlike other organs in the body. This makes functional recovery after a spinal injury uncommon. Medical research is trying to find ways to encourage the spinal cord to repair itself.

Q. What can people do to reduce their likelihood of damaging their spinal cords?

Take care and all necessary precautions when engaging in high-risk activities such as rugby, driving and horse racing. If spinal braces are recommended as part of a sporting safety measure, make sure that these are well-fitting and worn correctly at all times. Seek urgent medical attention if they develop symptoms of spinal cord injury (see above).

Q. What should I do if I think someone may have badly damaged their back (for example, in an accident or fall)?

Apply the basic principles of first aid/resuscitation and dial 999 and ask for an ambulance, Do not move the person and tell them not to move. Stay with them until medical help arrives.