The spinal cord is the information superhighway that carries signals from the brain to the rest of the body by way of nerves. Motor nerves carry information to muscles and stimulate movement. Sensory nerves carry information to the brain about sensations such as touch, position, pain, heat and cold.
Extending downward from the base of the brain, the spinal cord is protected by vertebrae, the bones that make up the spinal column.
Because it is the communication network between the brain and the rest of the body, injury to the spinal cord can be very serious, sometimes causing paralysis and loss of sensation below the point of injury.
Spinal Cord Injuries
Injury to the spinal cord may occur during such events as a car accident or serious fall. If the spinal cord is cut or severed, certain bodily functions may be partially or completely impaired. Because nerves in the spinal cord are grouped by related types and function, the part of the body affected by the injury is determined by where the damage is located on the spinal cord.
Physicians and emergency personnel may employ techniques to stabilize the spinal column to prevent further injury and to relieve cord compression. Corticosteroid drugs may be prescribed by a physician to help prevent swelling around the injury and minimize cell damage.
The long-term prognosis of a spinal cord injury patient is largely based on the severity and location of the injury, as well as the type of nerves that are damaged. Although emergency intervention and rehabilitation help many spinal cord injury patients survive and manage their disability, methods for restoring function after a severe spinal cord injury are limited, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Physical and occupational therapy is an important part of the recovery and management of spinal cord injuries. For more information about the physical and occupational therapy programs at Harris Methodist Fort Worth Hospital, see the information available at the Mabee Rehabilitation Center.
What are spinal tumors? According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, spinal cord tumors are abnormal growths of tissue found inside the bony spinal column. Noncancerous tumors are referred to as being benign, and cancerous tumors are called malignant. Whether identified as benign or malignant, tumors can push against the spinal column and disrupt or destroy function.
Symptoms of spinal tumors include:
- Sensory changes
- Motor problems
Accurate diagnosis of a brain tumor requires a formal examination by a physician, as well as the use of imaging tests such as CT or MRI scans. A physician may also order an EEG or spinal tap to help determine a proper diagnosis. A surgical biopsy may be required to make an accurate diagnosis and to ascertain the best treatment plan.
Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are all options for treating tumors. Please consult a physician for a proper diagnosis and continuum of care. For a physician referral, call 1-877-THR-WELL (1-877-847-9355).
Spinal Cord Compression
What is spinal cord compression? Spinal cord compression occurs when a disorder such as a tumor, an infection or a broken vertebra causes pressure to be exerted on the spinal cord, resulting in a disruption of normal function.
Symptoms of spinal cord compression include:
- Loss of, or changes in sensation
- Weakness or paralysis
- Pain and tenderness at the site of the compression
The key to treating a spinal cord compression is diagnosis of the compression before permanent injury to the nerves occurs. Once the source of the compression is found, usually through physical examination combined with computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, physicians can map the appropriate course of treatment.
Corticosteroid drugs may be prescribed by a physician to minimize swelling in or around the cord. If the compression is caused by a tumor in or near the spinal cord, surgery or radiation therapy may be used to remove the growth. Abscesses caused by infection that push on the spinal cord can be treated with antibiotics and/or drained by a physician.
For more information about the treatment of spinal cord compression, please consult a physician. For a physician referral, call 1-877-THR-WELL (1-877-847-9355).
What is a ruptured vertebra? A cartilage disk separates each vertebra of the spinal cord. These disks act as a cushion between each vertebra to help soften blows to bony structure during movement. As a person ages or sustains an injury, these disks can rupture and rub against or press down on a nerve, causing pain, a loss of sensation and/or weakness.
Symptoms will depend on the location of the ruptured disk and may include:
- Pain in the back, shoulder blade, armpit or upper ridge and tip of the shoulder
- Weakness in legs or arm muscles
- Footdrop (difficulty lifting the front part of the foot)
- Bowel or bladder impairment
- Numbness and tingling of the legs, feet and/or toes
A clear understanding of the symptoms combined with a physical examination, spinal X-rays, CT and MRI scans will help your physician accurately diagnose the source of your back pain. Your physician may also test sensation, coordination, muscle strength and reflexes.
Typically, most people with a ruptured disk in the lower back recover without surgery. Aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed by a physician to help ease the pain. Exercise and physical therapy may help speed up the recovery process. The Mabee Rehabilitation Center offers a comprehensive physical therapy program. Please consult a physician for a list of proper and safe exercise techniques. More severe disk injuries that cause weakness, loss of sensation, severe pain, or bladder and/or bowel control problems may be treated with surgery by removing the disk.