Spinal cord injuries are among the most devastating of all the personal injuries a person can sustain. The recovery process is long and painful. In many cases, irreversible damage does not respond to any treatment. The instant patients sustain spinal cord injuries, their entire lives can change. If you or a loved one has suffered such an injury, contact the Dolman Law Group today. Our personal injury attorneys have extensive experience in protecting the rights of spinal cord injury victims across southern Florida.
The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that send electrical impulses between the brain and the body. It runs down the middle of the back, where the bony spinal column protects it. An injury to the spinal cord usually begins with an injury to the spinal column, such as a fractured or dislocated vertebrae, which can cause tears or pressure to the nerves of the spinal cord. This can impair the ability of spinal cord nerves to send and receive electrical impulses.
Because spinal bones can easily damage spinal nerves, certain injuries are risk factors for spinal cord injuries. The National Institutes of Health recommends that doctors assess for spinal cord injuries whenever a patient has sustained a head injury, a pelvic fracture, a penetrating trauma in the area of the spine, or a fall from a height.
In such situations, a doctor may use many diagnostic tools to identify spinal cord injuries. A simple X-ray of the spine is sometimes sufficient to reveal spine injuries. Other times, doctors inject a dye into the spine before the X-ray (a process known as a myelogram) to get better images of the functionality of the spinal nerves. If these are not sufficient, other, more enhanced imaging options can generate more comprehensive images of the spine. A computerized tomography (CT or “CAT”) scan uses a computer to create a cross-sectional image of the spine. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses strong magnetic waves that are analyzed by a computer to create an image of the spine. Both CT and MRI can detect abnormalities, such as blood clots, that an X-ray cannot reveal. In addition to imaging studies, doctors can continue to assess a patient’s neurological status, as well as sensation and movement in the patient’s extremities.
Treatment for a Spinal Cord Injury
A spinal cord injury is a medical emergency because the nerves of the spinal cord control vital bodily functions such as breathing and blood circulation. On the scene of an accident, it is important to immobilize the patient as much as possible to prevent further injury to the spine. Emergency medical personnel have specialized equipment—including backboards, neck braces, and head blocks—that allow them to transport the patient safely. Throughout these emergency medical services, the two primary concerns are maintaining the patient’s ability to breathe and keeping the spine stabilized. Immediate treatment at a hospital may include medication and surgery. In surgery, doctors can remove fluid or tissue that is compressing the spinal nerves, remove fragments of bones or discs, fuse spinal bones, or place spinal braces as needed.
After surgery, physical restraints such as braces or traction may hold the spinal cord in place and align it properly while the nerves heal. Later, the patient may need rehabilitative therapies to help regain motor functions. Physical therapy may improve communications skills, strengthen muscles, and improve mobility. Occupational therapy can improve fine motor skills (such as those used for writing or finger dexterity), the ability to manage hygiene and grooming, and control of the bladder and bowels. Assistive devices such as wheelchairs, walkers, and leg braces can help spinal cord injury victims regain mobility, and adaptive devices can help with communication, as well. Vocational therapy can help patients adapt to the use of these devices.
The Long-Term Effects of a Spinal Cord Injury
A spinal cord injury can be complete or incomplete. With complete injuries, the nerves cannot send or receive signals below the level of the injury. The patient thus becomes paralyzed below the point of injury. In an incomplete injury, a patient may still experience movement or sensation below the injury. The nerves have been damaged, and movement and sensation are impaired as a result, but they are present. The extent of damage that the spinal cord nerves sustained will determine the extent and frequency of the patient’s movement and sensation.
Aside from the nerve damage caused by the injury itself, many secondary conditions tend to affect spinal cord injury victims. These can include breathing problems, pneumonia, bowel and bladder incontinence, heart conditions, pressure sores, sexual malfunction, pain, blood clots, poor coordination, and muscle weakness. Some cancers
are more likely to occur in spinal cord injury victims—one study found a greater incidence of esophageal, liver, and blood cancers in patients with spinal cord injuries. Another study reported that the incidence of a type of bladder cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, is “much higher” among spinal cord injury victims than among the general population. These are just a few of the many complications that can cause devastating secondary injuries after spinal cord accidents.
The Right Legal Representation for Your St. Petersburg Personal Injury Claim
Whether your spinal cord injury was caused by a car accident, workplace accident, medical malpractice, or other factors, you need an experienced spinal cord injury attorney who will aggressively defend your right to compensation for your losses. The Dolman Law Group has more than 46 years of experience in protecting the rights of injury victims in and around St. Petersburg. Injury victims across southern Florida trust our professional staff, comprehensive legal expertise, and superior customer service. Call (727) 222-6922 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation with a personal injury attorney today.