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Spinal cord injury and its effects

The spinal cord is an extension of the brain, made up of a thick bundle of nerves running through the spine. It allows the brain to control and communicate with the rest of our body. So functions like movement and sensations are dependent on the spinal cord - it’s also crucial to controlling things such as blood pressure, breathing, bladder and bowel functions.

Spinal cord injuries (SCIs) are often categorized as a complete injury, when there’s a total loss of sensation and muscle function, or incomplete, meaning some nerve signals are able to travel past the injured area of the cord.

How can spinal cords be damaged?

Typically, SCIs are caused by a trauma such as an accident, an infection or disease. Obviously, if the spinal cord is damaged, many links between the brain and the rest of the body are affected.

Thank you to The Rehab Physio for giving me the confidence to do much more. It was scary trying to stand at first without a frame, but I got a real buzz afterwards.

Mrs R.

What are the effects?

Spinal cord injury will cause loss of movement and sensation, and several of the body’s normal functions can be lost or impaired. The general rule is, the higher up the spinal cord the damage occurs, the more movement and feeling will be lost.

  • A spinal cord damaged in the back area will cause problems with movement and feeling in the legs, and sometimes the stomach muscles are affected. This is medically known as paraplegia
  • If the damage is in the neck area the effect will be tetraplegia – affecting movement and feeling in legs and arms, stomach muscles and possibly chest muscles
  • Muscle wasting
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Pain or stinging sensation caused by damaged nerve fibres
  • Exaggerated reflexes or spasms

How much the body is affected is different for everyone – that’s true even if the injury occurred in the same part of the spinal cord as someone else. In some cases both sides of the body may be completely impaired, in others some muscle function may be left – one limb might still be able to move and be felt, for instance.

What can be done in recovery?

As we’ve already mentioned, an SCI will affect different people to differing degrees and the extent of the spinal cord damage will dictate how much rehabilitation can be achieved. In many cases it can take around two years for a patient to reach their full potential for movement and feeling recovery after an SCI. The Rehab Physio’s team have plenty of experience in maximising each SCI patient’s recovery. We have a range of treatments and techniques from which to tailor a rehabilitation plan, many of which may not be available through the normal NHS services.