Depending on the nature of the injury, the nearly 20,000 spinal cord injuries (SCIs) that occur each year in the United States can produce a variety of symptoms. Some of these may be temporary and get better over time, while others may be more permanent. While some degree of paralysis is to be expected with most spinal cord injuries, there are other issues that may be experienced as well, some of which are more serious than others and may require spine surgery. Los Angeles spine experts discuss eight secondary complications that may affect anyone with a spinal cord injury.
1. Loss of Bladder/Bowel Control
Your bladder and bowels may still work as normal after an SCI when it comes to how bodily elimination is handled. However, the signals that come from your brain to control how these parts function may not be delivered correctly. Rehabilitation may include learning new techniques to control these processes to prevent kidney problems, bloating, and irritation. A high-fiber diet sometimes helps with bowel issues.
2. Lost Skin Sensation
Below the location of your spinal cord injury, you may have a loss of sensation within your skin. Diminished sensation may make it difficult to notice signs of pressure sores or other irritations. Changing positions periodically can minimize this problem.
3. Circulation Problems
Deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism are types of blood clots that may develop from circulation problems related to an SCI. Circulation issues can also contribute to excessively low blood pressure (orthostatic hypotension) or dangerously high blood pressure (autonomic hyperreflexia). Medications like cilostazol, massage therapy, and acupuncture treatments may increase circulation and blood flow.
4. Respiratory Issues
Abdominal and chest muscles are sometimes affected by spinal cord injuries that occur in the neck (cervical spine) or upper back (thoracic spine). If muscles around these areas don’t function normally anymore, you may experience breathing problems or have difficulty coughing. Medications and therapeutic techniques may reduce the risk of developing pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses and lung problems.
5. Sedentary Lifestyle
The limited mobility that often goes along with a spinal cord injury may contribute to a lifestyle that includes a lack of substantial exercise and poor eating habits. Habits like these are contributing factors for obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. A dietitian can recommend healthy diet choices, and a physical therapist or trainer experienced in working with clients with SCIs should be able to recommend appropriate exercises. Water-based therapy may also be beneficial.
6. Muscle and Nerve Conditions
Muscle atrophy sometimes develops after a spinal cord injury, which may lead to general weakness that extends to other tissues. Muscle tone conditions sometimes develop as well, with the most common being uncontrolled muscle tightening (spasticity) and a lack of muscle tone (flaccidity). Muscle pain and nerve pain (neuropathy or central pain syndrome) may also be experienced. Physical therapy exercises and anti-inflammatory and pain meds may help.
7. Sexual Dysfunction
Both men and women may have difficulty with sexual functioning following an SCI. If you experience such issues, you may be referred to a urologist or fertility specialist, especially if you are in the process of trying to conceive.
A spinal cord injury often results in long-term and sometimes permanent disability. Because of these significant quality of life changes, it’s not unusual to have issues with depression. Counseling and medication are sometimes helpful.
If you’re seeking relief for a spinal cord injury, reach out to The Spine Institute Center for Spinal Restoration. We specialize in a wide array of procedures, from spinal decompression to XLIF surgery. Los Angeles patients can trust in Dr. Hyun Bae and his team of expert surgeons to diagnose the source of their pain and find an effective solution for relief. Call 310-828-7757 today to schedule an in-person evaluation.