What is Considered to be a Spinal Cord Injury?
Spinal cord injuries are the result of damage to ligaments, disks, vertebrae, or direct insult to the spinal column or to the spinal cord itself. Non-traumatic spinal cord injuries can be the result of inflammation, arthritis, cancer, infections, or disk degeneration of the spine. Traumatic spinal cord injuries can be caused by a traumatic, sudden blow to the spine that compresses, dislocates, crushes, or fractures one or more vertebrae. Additional damage often occurs over the course of days or weeks after an initial injury due to bleeding, swelling, inflammation, and fluid accumulation around the spinal cord.
What are the Common Causes of Injuries that Require Spinal Surgery?
The most common causes of spinal cord injuries in the United States are:
- Falls - Spinal cord injuries in those over the age of 65 are most commonly caused by a fall. Falls are the cause of over one-quarter of all spinal cord injuries.
- Motor vehicle accidents - Motorcycle and auto accidents are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries, responsible for over 35 percent of new spinal cord injuries annually.
- Sports and recreation injuries - Diving into shallow water causes nearly 10 percent of all spinal injuries.
- Acts of violence - About 15 percent of spinal cord injuries are caused by violent encounters, most often from knife and gunshot wounds.
- Alcohol - Abuse of alcohol is a factor in about 25 percent of spinal cord injuries.
- Diseases - Cancer, osteoporosis, arthritis, and inflammation sometimes also cause spinal cord injuries.
How is Spinal Injury Diagnosed?
Common tests used just after a spinal injury that are used to determine its extent are:
- X-rays - X-rays usually reveal vertebral (spinal column) problems, fractures, degenerative changes in the spine, or tumors.
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan - A CT scan offers a better view of any abnormalities than an X-ray, using a computer to create a series of cross-sectional images that define disc, bone, and other problems.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - MRIs are most helpful in identifying blood clots or other masses that may be compressing the spinal cord and herniated disks.