Road Traffic Accidents: Types of Spinal Cord Injury
Road Traffic Accidents: The No.1 Causes of Spinal Cord Injury
Every year over 1200 people’s lives are changed because of spinal cord injury. This amounts to a new person being paralysed every 8 hours. In the UK there are currently more than 40 000 individuals living with paralysis due to a spinal cord injury. An alarming 37% of these cases are down to road traffic accidents, the majority of which involve either a car or a bus.
Currently, there is no definitive cure for a spinal cord injury - only recovery and rehabilitation. Accordingly, it is of paramount importance that you take responsibility for yourself and others when on the road: If we all drove with a little added caution, it is possible that we could reduce the number of accidents on the road and work together to reduce the figures stated above.
What is a Spinal Cord Injury?
Your spinal cord is a collection of nerves that run all the way down your spine in what is called the vertebral column. This group of nerves, when paired with your brain, makes up the body’s central nervous system (CNS). It is the CNS which is responsible for all control, function and sensory capabilities.
A spinal cord injury (SCI) is when the spinal cord is damaged. An SCI will, unfortunately, lead to temporary or permanent changes in functions: These changes can include the loss of organ function, loss of control over parts of the body, the loss of muscle function and sensation.
Spinal Cord Injuries
Injuries occurring at any level of the spinal cord are classified as either a complete injury or an incomplete spinal cord injury.
An incomplete spinal injury means that the spinal cord is not completely - or is incompletely - damaged, meaning that there is some sensory or motor function below the level of injury or lesion. On the other hand, a complete spinal injury is when the spinal cord is completely damaged and disrupted. This nerve damage prevents any signal from the brain reaching the body below the level of lesion.
Cauda Equina Syndrome (CES)
The Cauda Equina, Latin for horse’s tail, is a bundle of nerves that are located at the base of the spinal column at the top of the Lumbar Spine. These group of nerves send and receive messages to and from your legs, feet and pelvic organs.
Cauda Equina Syndrome is more of a ‘spinal emergency’ than a traditional spinal cord injury: It can be reversed if acted upon quickly.
CES occurs when the nerves below the spinal cord, the Cauda Equina become compressed. Compression here happens through bruising or fracturing of vertebrae in the spinal column. The most common cause is the result of spinal cord injury usually following a traumatic accident. Other causes of CES include:
• A narrowing of the spinal canal - Stenosis .
• A spinal lesion or tumour .
• An infection, swelling, fracture or haemorrhage on the spine .
• The result of a birth defect .
The compression of the Cauda Equina can lead to a whole myriad of complications and difficulties. The most common symptoms experienced are as follows:
• Severe pain in the lower back .
• Loss of, or a change in sensation in the legs, saddle area - inc. buttocks, inner thighs, backs of your legs - or feet, that increasingly worsens - known as Saddle Anesthesia .
• The experience of a pain, numbness, or weakness in the legs which causes you to struggle when getting up or walking .
• Sexual dysfunction .
• Problems with bladder or bowel functions .
If you or someone you knows is experiencing the above symptoms it is imperative that they seek immediate medical attention. This is because early diagnosis of CES can lead to the success of preventative procedures such as decompression surgery. This removes the pressure from the Cauda Equina so that it can once again send and receive messages. The sooner this is done, the less permanent the damage that is caused.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Cauda Equina Syndrome
A doctor or other medical professional can usually diagnose Cauda Equina Syndrome with relative ease.
A physical exam will be the first stage of any diagnosis. The assessment of your strength, reflexes, sensation, stability, alignment, and motion will give your doctor a rough idea if CES could be a possible explanation for your symptoms.
From here a CT, or Myelogram - an X-ray of the spinal canal after injection of contrast material - will be able to highlight in more detail whether the Cauda Equina is compressed.
If CES is diagnosed there are a few treatment options depending on the cause:
• If it is a result of spinal cord injury through a traumatic accident such as a car or road crash then surgery will be used .
• If it is a result of an infection, antibiotics can usually reduce the swelling .
• If it is caused by a tumour, external radiotherapy is the best option .
What’s Next? Rehabilitation
Following a hefty accident, such as a car accident, spinal cord injury rehabilitation is a two part process:
First comes the acute recovery phase. This covers the time from the receipt of the injury up until stabilisation is achieved.
The second part is the spinal injury rehabilitation. This aims to limit the complications from injury, maximise functions and sensory capabilities and also to reintroduce the individual into employment and as independent a life as possible.
More detailed explanation of the different rehabilitative process, the assistive technologies available and organisations that can help when the time comes to go home can be found here.
Aspire Law and Your Compensation Claim
Following an SCI, a compensation claim and a fair financial settlement really can be life changing. Here at Aspire, we completely understand that it won't turn the clock back, but, unfortunately living with a spinal injury does not come cheap. In most cases, the only way to manage these costs is through a successful claim, which can allow you to continue as normal a life and level of independence as is possible.
Even if you feel partly to blame for your accident, you should discuss your options with a specialist spinal cord injury law firm to discuss your options. At Aspire Law, we have extensive experience in these complex and highly sensitive cases. We have even settled many claims where our client was partly to blame for their accident.
If you or a loved one has sustained a spinal cord injury or Cauda Equina Syndrome as a result of being in a car or other type of road traffic accident or by means of any other accident, then please get in touch to see how we can help.