spinal injuries

Spinal Injuries – What You Should Know


Spinal injuries are very often difficult to recognise and deal with in the event of an accident or emergency. They can be caused by a number of things, ranging from more minor bumps, bruises and wear, to severe damage which can cause paralysis in different parts of the body.

The biggest danger with any spinal injury is the potential damage to the spinal cord. The spinal cord is made up of a collection of nerves and tissue connecting the brain to the rest of the body. It is responsible for communicating instructions for movement, indications of pain or discomfort around the body, and all other bodily functions. Although the spine is essentially strong and well protected, in the event of even a minor suspected injury it is essential that you know how to respond to avoid causing further, more serious, damage.


Common Causes of Spinal Injuries

Spinal injuries can occur following falls or slips, motor vehicle accidents, sports injuries, accidents at work, assaults, and many other things including diseases like polio and spina bifida. They are caused by trauma directly to the spinal cord, damaging the nerves, bones or tissue which make up the spine. Injury may be more likely to occur in those with a weakened spine, such as those with arthritis, but anyone can fall victim to spinal injuries.


Complete and Incomplete Injuries

Spinal injuries which cause damage to the spinal cord are categorised as complete or incomplete, depending upon the level of damage caused. In the event of a complete spinal injury, a person will not be able to feel or move any part of the body below the point on the spine which has been injured. For example, if a person injures their spine at the neck, a complete injury would leave them unable to move or control anything below the neck, leaving the victim totally paralysed.

In the case of an incomplete injury, there will still be some movement or control below the injury level. It may be that a person suffers from localised paralysis, leaving them unable to move or feel certain parts of their body.


Signs of a Spinal Injury

Although it can be difficult to know for certain whether a person has damaged their spine, some signs and symptoms may include loss of movement or feeling in any part of the body, loss of bladder or bowel control, pain or stinging sensations, spasms or severe pain. In the event of a broken back, you may be able to see a dent at the area of the break, or there may be some swelling. A break to the spine does not necessarily mean that damage to the spinal cord has taken place, but any amount of movement could be harmful.


Dealing with Spinal Injuries in an Emergency Situation

If you are dealing with an emergency in which you suspect any amount of injury may have occurred to the victim’s spine, the person MUST NOT BE MOVED. It may be that damage has occurred to the spinal cord which, if the person is moved, could be made significantly worse. Although not all spinal injuries will result in damage to the spinal cord, if you suspect any level of spinal injury, you must call 999 immediately.

To help prevent further damage, you should support the person’s head and neck to keep them from moving. You can do this by kneeling above the person’s head and gripping their head at either side, without covering their ears. You must ensure that the victim’s head, neck and spine are kept as straight as possible. If there is someone around who can help you, ask them to find something to help support the neck and head, such as a rolled up towel, clothes, or a blanket.


When to Seek Help

If you are suffering from back pain or loss of movement but have not experienced any direct trauma to the back, you can make an appointment with your GP or, if your surgery is closed, your local out of hours service. They will be able to advise you on the best course of action, which may include pain medication, referral to a physiotherapist or other specialist.

If there is any reason to suspect a more serious spinal injury, particularly in the event of a fall or other accident, you must call 999 immediately.