Spinal cord damage can occur due to several different reasons, the most common being external trauma, which is often caused by car accidents, falls, and sports injuries. Some diseases, such as spinal tumors and osteoporosis, also cause spinal cord damage. The symptoms of a damaged spine will vary depending on the location and severity of the injury. They might include neck or back pain, muscle spasms, tingling, numbness, weakness, bowel or bladder dysfunction, and paralysis. After performing the appropriate neurological examinations and diagnostic tests (MRI, CT scan, and X-ray), your doctor will be able to give you a prognosis and advise you on the best course of treatment.
Unfortunately, there is no way to reverse spinal cord damage. However, researchers are tirelessly working on new advanced treatments, many of which can decrease the damage at the time of the injury, promote nerve cell regeneration, or improve the function of the remaining healthy nerves post-injury. Here are the safest ways to treat a damaged spine.
Spinal cord injuries require immediate treatment, which starts with stabilization to prevent further injuries, address life-threatening complications, and decrease the risk of long-term problems. Medications are then used to manage the pain, reduce swelling, control muscle spasticity, and improve bladder and bowel function.
This surgical procedure is often used to treat unstable spinal fractions as well as any degenerative changes that allow for abnormal spinal movement. When two vertebrae rub against each other, this may result in severe back, leg, or arm pain. Spinal fusion surgery can help align the spine, restore the disc space between the vertebrae, and prevent further damage to the spinal nerves by permanently fusing the bones together using plates, hooks, rods, cages, or pedicle screws. It may take several months or longer to create a solid fusion.
It’s important to note that spinal fusion won’t fix your back problems or eliminate your back pain completely; it will stop the abnormal and painful movement of the vertebrae, improving your range of motion and allowing you to return to a somewhat normal lifestyle. Physical therapy and exercise can help reduce back pain, so make sure to consider these less invasive options before contemplating surgery.
These devices are used to control the pain by immobilizing the spine and restricting your movement during the recovery period. They also help maintain spinal alignment after injury or surgery. There are different types of back and neck braces out there, including rigid braces (for cervical fractures), thoracolumbar-sacral orthosis braces (for lower back fractures), and cervical-thoracic braces (for upper back fractures).
A doctor may also advise scoliosis patients to wear a back brace. Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine that typically occurs due to conditions such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. Back braces for scoliosis can prevent the progression of the disease if prescribed early on. Depending on your case, a medical professional will recommend the type of brace that is the most appropriate and comfortable for you. Make sure to follow the doctor’s specific instructions regarding when, how, and for how long you should wear your brace to ensure successful rehabilitation.
Vertebral augmentation includes kyphoplasty and vertebroplasty, which are two minimally invasive procedures commonly used to treat compression fractures. These fractures often result from blunt force trauma, spinal tumors, and conditions such as osteoporosis. If left untreated, they will heal in a collapsed position, which can lead to debilitating back pain, reduced physical activity, decreased lung capacity, loss of independence, and difficulty sleeping.
In both procedures, a hollow needle is used to inject bone cement into the fractured vertebra in order to relieve the pain. However, before injecting the bone cement in a kyphoplasty procedure, a balloon is inserted and inflated to expand the compressed vertebra and return it back to its normal position. Both techniques can relieve back pain, help patients recover faster, allow them to stand straight, and lower their risk of future fractures.
These are the most effective ways to treat an injured or damaged spine and improve the patient’s chances of leading an active and productive life. It’s important to note that recovery, if it occurs, typically starts weeks or months after the injury, depending on its location and severity.
Follow-up care is a crucial part of any treatment plan, so if you are recovering from a damaged spine, be sure to keep up with your physical therapy and occupational therapy appointments. Your therapists will guide you through the initial stages of rehabilitation and provide you with exercises and adaptive techniques to strengthen your existing muscle function, redevelop your fine motor skills, prevent complications, and increase your independence and quality of life.