Spinal Cord Injury and Secondary Health Complications

Spinal Cord Injury and Secondary Health ComplicationsMany people do not know the full extent of spinal cord injuries. They may think that individuals who have this type of injury can heal within a few weeks or months. However, the truth is that spinal cord injuries often come with secondary health complications, making the individual’s life more complicated as well as emotionally and physically exhausting for years.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines a spinal cord injury as “damage to the tight bundle of cells and nerves that sends and receives signals from the brain to and from the rest of the body.” Your spinal cord can be found along your back, extending from your brain to your lower back. Injuries to the spine often happen when a person is involved in an accident, such as a car accident, truck accident, motorcycle accident, bicycle accident, pedestrian accident, and more. However, they can also be caused by violence and physical assault.

Spinal cord injuries are typically categorized in two ways:

  1. Incomplete spinal cord injury: An incomplete spinal cord injury allows the brain and spinal cord to still communicate. This means that individuals with incomplete spinal cord injuries are able to still function in some ways and move and control the muscles below the injury.
  2. Complete spinal cord injury: A complete spinal cord injury is much more severe than an incomplete spinal cord injury. This type of injury means that the individual cannot move or control any of the muscles below the injury. Therefore, the spinal cord cannot send any messages to the brain.

What are secondary health complications?

When a person is diagnosed with a spinal cord injury, they are often monitored for secondary health complications. The spinal cord injury is directly caused by the accident and injury, but the secondary health complications are caused by “swelling and inflammation” that comes from the injury. In other words, there would be no secondary complications if the spinal cord injury never occurred.

Examples of secondary health complications that emerge from spinal cord injuries

Every individual’s spinal cord injury is different, which means that secondary health complications can also be different for each person. It typically depends on the severity of the spinal cord injury, how much swelling and inflammation is present, and where the injury is located. However, some complications are more common than others when it comes to these types of injuries, such as:

  • Pressure ulcers: One of the most common secondary complications from a spinal cord injury is pressure ulcers. These ulcers are also known as bedsores, and they come from lying or sitting in one position for too long. This typically happens because the individual cannot move like they used to, or they are completely paralyzed. When a patient is unable to move often, the skin loses blood flow, causing it to become damaged. Pressure ulcers can be found on the heels, ankles, feet, knees, shoulders, head, elbows, hips, and more.
  • Urological complications: Spinal cord injury patients usually have a hard time controlling their bladder, which can cause urinary incontinence. If they cannot move or control the area below the injury, there is a good chance that they cannot control their bladder. They may need to undergo surgery, relearn how to control their bladder, or even use a catheter.
  • Autonomic dysreflexia: Autonomic dysreflexia is a health condition that causes the involuntary nervous system to overreact to the body’s stimuli. Patients who have this health condition often experience rapid heartbeats, nausea, dizziness, high blood pressure, sweating, blotchy skin, severe anxiety, and more.
  • Scoliosis: Many people have heard of the term scoliosis before. This health condition occurs when the spine curves, which happens to some people right before they reach puberty. However, if a person experiences a traumatic accident that led them to having a spinal cord injury, they may develop scoliosis.
  • Spasticity: Spasticity is extremely common in spinal cord injury patients. This condition causes your muscles to involuntarily contract, which happens because the brain and spinal cord now have issues communicating and sending messages to the rest of the body. As a result, the muscles can become very tight, leading to severe pain and mobility issues.
  • Chronic and long-lasting pain: Individuals with a spinal cord injury usually have life-long, permanent pain. It can be in their muscles, joints, bones, abdomen, and more.
  • Depression and other mental health issues: When a person has a spinal cord injury, they often develop depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. The reason for this is because they have to learn how to cope and adjust to their new way of living, which can be extremely mentally exhausting.

Strategies for managing secondary health complications from a spinal cord injury

If you or a loved one has a spinal cord injury, you may be wondering what prevention and management strategies can be used to ensure that secondary health complications do not arise or become worse. Here are a few different strategies that you should consider:

  • Make sure that you are moving from your wheelchair, bed, sofa, or any other surface that you are sitting or lying on. This will help prevent and manage pressure ulcers.
  • Drink a lot of water and fluids throughout the day. Since urological problems are associated with spinal cord injuries, you want to make sure that you drink at least eight cups of water every day to prevent an infection.
  • Stretch and work out as much as possible. This will help you prevent and manage any spasticity symptoms.
  • Talk to a psychologist or counselor to manage and prevent depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issues you are going through. Many people are afraid to admit that they are feeling lost and hopeless, but it is understandable that you are experiencing a difficult time with your injuries.
  • Ask your doctor for a fitted brace to manage and prevent your scoliosis from becoming worse.
  • Work with a physical therapist on new techniques to help manage your pain and keep your muscles, tendons, and limbs moving often. This will not only help you physically, but it can help you mentally as well.

At Bailey & Greer, our personal injury lawyers in Little Rock, AK work tirelessly to help our clients with spinal cord injuries. We advocate for their rights and demand compensation for their pain, suffering, and secondary complications. If your spinal cord injury is the result of an accident caused by another person, please call our spinal cord injury attorney or submit our contact form to schedule a free consultation.