A spinal cord injury (SCI) is usually a result of trauma to the spine. Spinal cord injuries usually begin with a blow that fractures or dislocates your vertebrae, the bone discs that make up your spine.
Most injuries don’t sever your spinal cord. Instead, they cause damage when pieces of vertebrae tear into cord tissue or press down on the nerve parts that carry signals trauma causes a complete or incomplete tear of the spinal cord leading to loss of sensation and muscle power below the level of the injury. Spinal cord damage can also be due to other causes such as tumours and spina bifida.
Approximately 80% of SCI are due to trauma from road traffic accidents, sport, falls industry etc. The remaining 20% are acquired i.e tumours, infection etc.
Spinal cord injuries are classified as either complete or incomplete. A complete injury is where there is no sparing of motor or sensory function below the level of the injury. Incomplete injuries are when there is some degree of motor and/or sensory sparing below the level of injury. Spinal injuries can leave you with a variety of symptoms and these will depende on the site and severity of the injury:
• Loss of sensation
• Loss of movement and mobility
• Pain and muscle spasm
• Loss of bladder and bowel function
• Decreased or loss of sexual function
• Some may have decreased respiratory function
The aim of physiotherapy is to assess the recovery and assist with improvement in the physical potential following the lesion. The goals set with you will be realistic and relevant to your type and level of injury. Physiotherapy will include the following:
• Strengthening of areas above the lesion to assist with transfers and independence in complete lesions
• Mobility and function
• Balance re-education
• Prevention of secondary complications
• Transfers (bed to chair, chair to chair, bathroom and car)
• Wheelchair mobility
• Stretching of tight muscles and management of spasms
• Management of tone
• Pressure area care
• Breathing exercises where appropriate
• Use of any specialised equipment