Warning Signs of a Serious Spinal Contusion
The spinal cord is a vital part of the human body. As the vehicle responsible for carrying messages from the brain to the rest of the body and back again, even the smallest interference can be detrimental. Following a traumatic spinal cord injury, this bundle of nerves can become bruised, also known as a contusion. Because of the nature of the nervous system, any interference can constitute a serious spinal contusion, but these facts will help you dissect all of the information from the medical professionals.
What Is a Spinal Contusion?
Much like any other bruise, a contusion can cause bleeding from local blood vessels and inflammation which, rather unlike bruises on other parts of the body, can have serious negative impacts on the spinal cord itself. Because the “blood must clot to stop the bleeding”a bruise results from contusions also increase cardiovascular risks.
For example, the swelling a contusion can cause will often disrupt nerve impulses that travel from the brain to the body through the spinal cord, and the severity of this will depend upon the level of injury. Unlike a concussion, a contusion would not cause unconsciousness or a ‘blackout’, but instead cause the patient to feel a numbness or tingling in the extremities.
A contusion can cause spinal compression, which happens when there is pressure on the spinal cord. This can go on to cause an array of physical symptoms such as loss of sensation in the feet, inability to use the hands and loss of sexual ability. It must be noted that not all contusions cause spinal compression, and not all spinal compression is caused by a contusion, although they do often connect this way.
Warning Signs of a Serious Spinal Contusion to Watch For
Firstly, doctors will try and establish what area or limb the injury has affected. Spinal contusions most often “affect the upper extremities bilaterally and also sometimes involve the lower extremities,” according to Dr. Wong, an orthopedic physician.
Symptoms include “numbness, tingling, [or] electric shock-like sensations and burning in the extremities,” (American Association of Neurological Surgeons, 2016). Generally falling into the category of “spinal trauma” there are many symptoms which are similar to other forms of spinal trauma and spinal cord injury. Below are some symptoms of spinal trauma:
- Spinal shock — or the "loss of feeling or movement below site of injury" (Columbia University Medical Centre, 2016) that can last between hours and weeks
- Loss of bladder or bowel function
- Difficulty breathing
- Muscle spasticity
- Difficulty understanding speech
- Problems with attention
- Memory challenges
- Heart rate and blood pressure problems
Unfortunately, it is sometimes challenging to identify which symptoms are due to a spinal contusion, and which ones are the result of a spinal cord injury directly. It can sometimes require a few days or weeks for the body to recover from spinal trauma and reveal if any permanent damage is left from the accident that caused the SCI.
Understanding what a contusion is, and how it can come into play following a spinal cord injury is important in order to clearly appreciate your injury, understand your diagnoses, and work toward treatment and a prognosis. Doctors can sometimes use jargon that’s difficult to understand, so the more you can educate yourself about your condition, the more control you can have in your recovery and treatment.
If you still have questions about the details of the spinal cord and how it may be affected from your injury, please contact us or download our guide to understanding a spinal cord injury.
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Spinal Cord Team