What to Do If Someone Has a Spinal Cord Injury

In a split second, a spinal cord injury can change someone’s life forever. It is estimated that 17,500 spinal cord injuries occur every year. Currently, there are approximately 450,000 people living with spinal cord injuries in the U.S. A spinal cord injury is caused by trauma to the spinal cord, which is often the result of a traumatic injury such as a car accident or construction accident. There is little doubt that these injuries are devastating for both the victim and their family and can cause a lifetime of ongoing physical therapy and medical care.


What is a Spinal Cord Injury?

A spinal cord injury is a result of damage to the spinal cord, which includes a bundle of nerves that is encased in the spinal column. Injury to the spinal cord can cause partial or complete loss of motor control and sensation for the victim. Depending on the location of the injury, it can cause loss of function in the lower part of the body, which is called paraplegia, or paralysis in all four limbs which is called quadriplegia.

The actual damage to the spinal cord can occur due to a broken vertebra, a foreign object entering the spinal column, or due to the spine being compressed or stretched. These injuries can also happen if the head or back is jarred or twisted, where fluid can build up and press into the nerves of the spinal column.

According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, common causes of spinal cord injuries include:

  • Car wrecks 42.1%
  • Falls 36.7%
  • Acts of violence 15.1%
  • Sporting and recreational activities 7.6%


Identifying a Spinal Cord Injury

Unfortunately, these injuries can be difficult to identify and may not be apparent at the time of the injury. To make matters worse, often people aren’t sure how to help someone who may have received this type of injury.

There are symptoms or red flags, that can alert someone that a spinal injury may have occurred. It is important to take note if the victim complains about pain in their back or neck, if their neck or back is twisted unnaturally, or the victim has a head injury and loss of consciousness. Also, be aware of of the following symptoms:

  • Extreme pain or pressure in the neck or back.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Inability to move extremities, problems with coordination or balance, muscle weakness.
  • Reduced or no sensation in extremities.
  • Loss of urinary or bowel control.


What Should You Do?

Seek immediate help and call 911. Notify the operator that the victim may have a spinal cord injury.

Keep the victim still and calm. Any movement can cause further damage to the victim. Brace their head or use your hands to hold the victim’s head steady until help arrives. If they are wearing a helmet, do not remove it. Do not try to move the victim.

Address life-threatening injuries first. If the victim has other serious injuries, place pressure on any wound that is bleeding, but take care to keep the victim’s neck and body aligned.

We understand that spinal cord injuries are devastating to the victim and their families. If you or a loved one has suffered a serious back or spinal cord injury, please contact us. We can help you sort through the circumstances of your case and help create an action plan moving forward.