Nearly 300,000 Americans are currently living with spinal cord injuries. Such injuries can be devastating and life-changing. The treatment and management of symptoms related to an injury directly affecting the spinal cord depend largely on the severity of the injury and its location. Continue reading to learn more about spinal cord injuries that can be classified as paraplegia, tetraplegia, or quadriplegia. For more detailed information, consult your doctor or a Santa Monica spine surgeon.
The legs are most affected by paraplegia, a type of spinal cord injury that results from damage to the thoracic spine, the part of the backbone that runs from the bottom of the neck to the abdomen. Affecting segments from T1 to L5, paraplegia typically results in some type of leg paralysis, and arms and hands are usually not affected. Patients with paraplegia may experience any of the following issues:
• Partial or full loss of ability to use their legs • Chronic tingling in the legs • Decreased lower body sensation • Lower body mobility issues and sensory problems
Some paraplegic patients also lose partial or full control over bladder function as a result of this type of spinal cord injury. Other individuals have no issues with bladder or sphincter control even if their legs are affected. Thirty percent of patients who do have bladder control issues eventually regain bladder function.
Tetraplegia and quadriplegia are actually the same thing. The reason for the difference in terminology is because of the prefixes—both “tetra” and “quadri” mean “four” in Greek and Latin, respectively. Regardless of which term you prefer, this type of spinal cord injury is so named because it affects all four limbs—the arms and legs—either fully or partially. The damage stems from the cervical sections of the spine. Some patients with this type of spinal cord injury also have difficulty breathing on their own.
The extent of the damage to the spine will determine how much the ability to control arms and legs is affected. Generally, symptoms are more severe the higher up the damage to the cervical spine is. Some individuals with tetraplegia or quadriplegia respond well to rehabilitative therapy.
Initial treatment for any type of spinal cord injury often involves medication and temporary immobilization to prevent further damage. Immediate surgery is sometimes necessary to remove bone fragments and address issues involving spinal bones and discs that are damaged. The spine itself may also need to be surgically stabilized. Rehabilitation for spinal cord injury patients typically involves:
• Exercises to improve fine motor skills • Efforts to maintain and strengthen existing functions • Lessons on how to use specialized equipment or assistive devices
There are several newer technologies that could improve quality of life for spinal cord injury patients. For instance, electrical stimulation devices stimulate arm and leg muscles to help paralyzed individuals walk, stand, reach, and grip.
Not all spinal cord injuries are preventable, but you can reduce your risk of experiencing a spinal cord injury by wearing properly fitting equipment when playing contact sports, wearing a helmet when riding a bike, following safety guidelines when working in high-risk locations, and wearing your seat belt every time you ride in a car.
If you’ve had a spinal cord injury, it’s crucial to find an experienced spine specialist who will let you know if surgery is a viable option for you. Whether they need physical therapy, a complete disc replacement, or a vertebroplasty procedure, Santa Monica patients can rely on the industry-leading surgeons at The Spine Institute to find the best treatment solutions for their conditions. Call our office today at 310-828-7757 to schedule an appointment.