What is spinal shock?

Spinal shock is the body's reaction to some type of trauma or injury to the spinal cord. This process begins within minutes of injury, but can take several hours to present a complete scenario. A decrease in movement and sensation usually occurs below the level of the injury.

Due to the injury, swelling begins to occur. This causes a reduction in blood flow which leads to a decreased flow of oxygen to the area. Blood vessels can also rupture if the injury is severe enough, which can cause heavy bleeding in the area. The body demonstrates a decreased ability to regulate itself, therefore electrical activity in the area decreases causing changes in movement and sensation.

Spinal shock can also impair the undamaged portion of the spinal cord. The general swelling cuts off the ability of other sections of the spinal cord to communicate with the brain. Depending on the severity of the injury, loss of sensation, reflexes, and total paralysis of the extremities below the area of ​​injury may occur. Other body functions, such as bladder control, may also be affected.

Spinal shock can last from several days to several weeks, depending on the severity of the injury and the appropriateness of treatment. Symptoms can get progressively worse if left untreated. The best chance for recovery comes with treatment within eight hours of injury. The standard treatment for inflammation or swelling is to administer steroids. Steroids can reduce further damage that nerve death can cause by controlling swelling that cuts off blood and oxygen supply to the area. However, despite treatment, long-standing or residual disability can occur.

To properly diagnose spinal shock, X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs are taken to assess the extent of the damage. If spinal injury is suspected, immediate immobilization followed by these tests may decrease the risk of lasting damage. Unstable spinal injuries generally require surgical intervention to restore stability and prevent further injury.

Nerve tissue that is compressed due to swelling has a high chance of full return function if properly diagnosed and treated. If the nerve is severed or severed, the damage to the nerve will be permanent. Any dysfunction that continues after six months has a higher incidence of becoming permanent.

Full recovery from spinal shock typically employs the use of physical and occupational therapists, as gross and fine motor skills may need some adjustment. The therapy is used to stretch and strengthen muscles, and to provide the patient with assistive devices such as walking aids or braces to improve overall mobility. Strategies to manage dysreflexia or changes in normal reflexes and neurogenic or nerve pain often associated with spinal shock are also employed to restore normal function as quickly as possible.

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