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Spinal Cord Injury
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Second Opinion Spinal Cord Injury Panel

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Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit medical practice dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of virtually every type of complex illness.
The mission of NINDS is to reduce the burden of neurological disease - a burden borne by every age group, by every segment of society, by people all over the world.
Founded in 1948, the National Spinal Cord Injury Association is the nation's oldest and largest civilian organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of Americans living with the results of spinal cord injury and disease (SCI/D) and their families. This number grows by thirty newly-injured people each day.
Proper management of a patient with a potential fracture or spinal cord injury can literally be the deciding factor in whether that patient suffers permanent nervous system damage and partial or total paralysis, or whether they can fully recover. Fracture management, and especially spinal injury management, are among a paramedic’s most important duties.
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(Source: NIH / National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke) Your spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that runs down the middle of your back. It carries signals back and forth between your body and your brain. A spinal cord injury disrupts the signals. Spinal cord injuries usually begin with a blow that fractures or dislocates your vertebrae, the bone disks that make up your spine. Most injuries don't cut through 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.

Types of spinal cord injury

Spinal cord injuries can be complete or incomplete. With a complete spinal cord injury, the cord can't send signals below the level of the injury. As a result, you are paralyzed below of injury. With an incomplete injury, you have some movement and sensation below the injury.


Paralysis is the loss of muscle function in part of your body. It happens when something goes wrong with the way messages pass between your brain and muscles. Paralysis can be complete or partial. It can occur on one or both sides of your body. It can also occur in just one area, or it can be widespread. Paralysis of the lower half of your body, including both legs, is called paraplegia. Paralysis of the arms and legs is quadriplegia.

Most paralysis is due to strokes or injuries such as spinal cord injury or a broken neck. Other causes of paralysis include

  • Nerve diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Autoimmune diseases such as Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • Bell's palsy, which affects muscles in the face

Treatment of spinal cord injury

A spinal cord injury is a medical emergency. Immediate treatment can reduce long-term effects. Treatments may include medicines, braces or traction to stabilize the spine, and surgery. Later treatment usually includes medicines and rehabilitation therapy. Mobility aids and assistive devices may help you to get around and do some daily tasks.

Source: NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Key Point 1

Immediate stabilization of a person after a fall or accident is critical to the outcome of a person with a spinal cord injury.  Rehabilitation starts right when the injury happens. You can be of tremendous help if you witness an accident.

Key Point 2

Rehabilitation of the whole person, not just their physical injury, is important for a person with a spinal cord injury to get back to their life.  Being as functional and independent as possible is the goal of rehabilitation.

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