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Everything You Need to Know about Spinal Cord Injury Surgery

Spinal cord injuries (SCIs) are life-threatening forms of trauma that require different types of treatment depending on the level and severity of each injury. The spinal cord, which consists of 31 nerve bundles housed within the boney protective structure of the spine, is a delicate and integral component of the body’s central nervous system (CNS). The spinal cord is responsible for transmitting signals between the brain and the rest of your body, enabling the motor and sensory functions we take for granted each day.

For some individuals after a traumatic injury, spinal cord injury surgery is an immediate and necessary need. However, some SCI patients may have to wait weeks, months, or even years after their initial injury to undergo surgery due to other health-related factors.

The goals of spinal cord injury surgery are to:

  • Decompress or relieve pressure from the spinal cord (from bone fragments, tumors, or anything else that may be compressing the spinal cord),
  • Stabilize the vertebral spine (which protects the spinal cord),
  • Mitigate further damage to the spinal cord nerves and spine,
  • Remove bone fragments or foreign objects that may impede the spinal cord,
  • Tend to blood clots or repair herniated disks,
  • Repair fractured vertebrae,
  • Improve the patient’s quality of life.

Here are a few things you should know about spinal cord surgery as part of your spinal cord injury treatment:

Making the Decision to Undergo Spinal Cord Injury Surgery

Deciding to undergo spinal cord injury surgery yourself or making the decision on behalf of a loved one who is a minor or is incapacitated is not something that should be taken lightly. There are many risks associated with surgery ranging from the procedure itself to the drugs that are used in the process.

Much of the decision about whether to undergo spinal cord surgery will depend on your age, overall health, the location of the injury, and how much your symptoms affect your day-to-day life. If you are experiencing weakness or numbness that makes it hard to walk, demonstrate hand function, or causes bladder, bowel, or sexual function issues, it may be time to consider spinal cord injury surgery. However, that is ultimately a decision that you will need to decide with your doctor.

Types of Spinal Cord Injury Treatment Options

Among the most common types of spinal cord injury treatment options aim to treat spinal stenosis, a condition that involves the narrowing or compression of the vertebrae that make up the spine (thereby compressing or impeding the spinal cord). A laminotomy, which involves the surgical removal of bone to decompress the spinal cord nerves, is a common form of spinal cord injury surgery for spinal stenosis.

Other types of spinal cord injury treatment surgeries for spinal stenosis include:

  • Foraminotomy: This procedure enlarges the area around one of the bones in your spinal column to relieve pressure on compressed nerves.
  • Interspinous process spacer: This device is used to open the vertebral foramen (the space in which the spinal cord runs vertically throughout the spine) to create additional space for your spinal cord and nerves in your spinal column without needing to remove any bone (as in a traditional laminectomy) while also causing less trauma to ligaments and muscles.

Related Complications of Spinal Cord Injury Surgery

According to the University of Washington’s UW Medicine website, some of the risks associated with spinal stenosis surgery can include:

  • Bleeding and blood clots,
  • Dural tearing (tearing of the covering of the spinal cord),
  • Failure of implanted fusion device(s), such as screws or rods,
  • Infection,
  • Injury to the spinal cord,
  • Reaction to or complications from anesthesia,
  • Return of pain or other symptoms following the surgery, and
  • Stroke.

What to Know about Spinal Injury Recovery from Surgery

Although patients may wish to avoid invasive spinal cord injury surgery, sometimes the reality of their individual conditions may require more help than physical therapy alone can provide. Regardless of the method, the best chance of recovery for someone with a traumatic spinal cord injury is early intervention and treatment.

The most significant recovery is often seen within the first six months after a spinal cord injury occurs. However, people have been known to experience improvements even years after their injury with aggressive rehabilitation and physical therapy.

The most important thing to remember after a spinal cord injury is that you are not alone. There is an entire community of spinal cord injury survivors and their families who share similar experiences and can lean on one another for support. If you have questions about other aspects of spinal cord injuries, such as legal advice, be sure to contact our team of SCI experts.

To learn more about what to expect and how to prepare for an extended hospital stay for you or your loved one, be sure to check out our complimentary resource by clicking on the link below.

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Topics: Spinal Cord Injury, Treatment

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