When most people hear the word “stroke,” they think of the brain. After all, brain-related strokes occur roughly every 40 seconds in the United States, and they can have a significant impact on quality of life. But did you know you could also experience a spinal stroke? Continue reading to learn about spinal strokes—what causes them, what symptoms to look out for, and what treatment options are available.
A spinal stroke is similar to a brain-related stroke in that it’s caused by a disruption in blood supply. In this case, the supply of blood to the spinal cord is cut off. While a disrupted blood supply to the spinal cord can cause issues in other parts of the body, it doesn’t usually affect the blood going to the brain.
Unlike standard strokes, spinal strokes are considered extremely rare. In fact, less than two percent of all strokes can be classified as spinal strokes. A blood clot that develops in a blood vessel is the most common reason for a stroke of this nature. A ruptured blood vessel could also cause a spinal stroke. Risk factors include:
• Excess weight
• Use of tobacco products
• High cholesterol and/or blood pressure
• Diabetes and other conditions that affect circulation
• A sedentary (inactive) lifestyle
The most obvious sign of a spinal stroke is extreme or sudden neck pain. You might also have unexplained muscle weakness, difficulty moving, or a reduced range of motion. Other signs and symptoms associated with this type of stroke include:
• Muscle spasms without a clear source
• Difficulty breathing
• Tingling sensations or numbness in the affected area or in nearby extremities
• Paralysis and/or loss of bladder control
Because the symptoms described above are similar to what’s experienced with some other spine-related problems, your doctor or Beverly Hills spine surgeon will perform image tests to confirm there’s a blocked blood vessel around the affected area of the spine. Image testing can also show if there’s bleeding that indicates a ruptured blood vessel.
Medication may effectively break up the clot and restore blood flow to the spine. For some patients, this may be the only treatment needed, especially if the clot or rupture is detected early. Surgery is sometimes necessary to repair ruptured blood vessels or remove blockages. Treatment may also involve:
• A medication regimen
• Dietary recommendations (e.g., eating more nutrient-rich foods and avoiding fatty meats and other foods that may contribute to blood vessel problems)
• Exercise suggestions
• Physical or occupational therapy to address mobility and range of motion issues
• Targeted stretches and exercises to improve functional capacity in arms and/or legs
After a patient is treated for a spinal stroke, the goal of follow-up care is to prevent similar circumstances from contributing to the same type of stroke in the future. In addition to the lifestyle improvements already mentioned, efforts might involve treating or managing underlying conditions that could increase stroke risk, such as circulation problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
If you’re having any of the symptoms listed above, make sure to see your doctor or spine specialist as soon as possible. When diagnosing and treating spine and neck issues, the spinal health pioneers at The Spine Institute use state-of-the-art technology and the most appropriate treatment methods for pain relief, from physical therapy to minimally invasive neck surgery. Beverly Hills residents are urged to call us today at 310-828-7757 to schedule a consultation.