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Spinal Cord Injury

An injury to the spinal cord is characterized by type and location of the injury. The spine is divided into four sections: cervical, thoracic, lumber and sacral regions. If the injury causes loss of muscle strength in the arms and legs, it is called quadriplegia. If the legs or lower regions are affected, it is called paraplegia. Typically, injuries in the lumbar or sacral region result in paraplegia.

Patients can have a complete spinal cord injury (CSI) or incomplete spinal cord injury. A complete spinal cord injury is when all motor and sensory function is lost below the level of the injury. Most of these cases are not due to a complete cut in the spinal cord, but normally due to bruising or reduced blood flow to the injured section.

Patients with incomplete spinal cord injuries have some function below the injury. In these cases, it may be only on one side of the body or one arm or leg may have more feeling or movement than the other. Incomplete spinal cord injuries are based on the pattern of injury:

Anterior cord syndrome – an injury to the motor and sensory pathways in the anterior section of the spinal cord. Patients have some feeling in their limbs, but no movement.

Central cord syndrome – normally associated with trauma to the nerve fibers that run from the brain to the spinal cord. This type of injury can result in paralysis to the arms and hands, but not in the legs or feet.

Brown-Sequard syndrome – is when the injury is confined to one side of the spinal cord, and impacts movement and feeling on the opposite side of the body since nerve pathways move to the other side after entering the spinal cord.

Surgery for spinal cord injury
WakeMed has 24/7/365 coverage through our Raleigh Campus Level I Trauma Center. Patients who are admitted through our emergency department have immediate access to a team of specialty trained trauma physicians, neurologists and neurosurgeons who can quickly assess and treat spinal cord injuries.

Most patients with a spinal cord injury are admitted through WakeMed’s emergency department as a trauma case. After stabilization and immobilization to ensure no further damage, patients undergo imaging tests to determine the extent of the injury. These patients are admitted to our intensive care unit and can be placed in traction and given steroid therapy to help reduce swelling and encourage healing. In some cases, patients need immediate surgery to repair a herniated disc, blood clot or other injury that is causing compression. While the goal of surgery is to restore function, some injuries cannot be reversed due to the severe damage; however, surgery can help stabilize and reduce the likelihood of chronic pain. Learn about some common surgeries performed on the neck and back .

Following surgery, patients recover in our inpatient rehab unit where they will undergo multiple therapies, including physical therapy, occupational therapy and other specialty therapies that will help the patient achieve the best possible recovery.

WakeMed also features a comprehensive spinal cord injury rehab program .




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