Causes of Spinal Cord Injury

There are many causes of spinal cord injury. Most often, a spinal cord injury occurs when the spinal cord and the spinal column experience a traumatic injury, such as a car crash, a fall, or a sports injury. In many cases, the spinal cord injury occurs when one or more of the bones in the spinal column break and push into the spinal cord, either causing damage or severing the cord altogether. There are, however, other, less common causes of spinal cord injury, including infections in the spinal nerve cells, growths such as tumors which push on the spinal column, or problems with the spinal cord receiving adequate blood supply.

Classifying a Spinal Cord Injury

When an individual suffers a traumatic spinal cord injury, medical care providers will attempt to evaluate and classify the level of damage sustained. In most cases, the initial assessment of the spinal cord damage will be done through imaging exams, including x-rays, CT scans, or MRI’s.  These types of scans will help to identify the specific areas of the spinal cord which have sustained damage.

In some cases, physicians may also perform a movement test on the patient based on classification standards set by the American Spinal Injury Association. This examination tests the individual’s ability to perform basic motor and sensory skills through a battery of tests. The results are then combined to form an overall opinion on the extent of the damage. These scores range from “A,” in which there is no motor or sensory function at all, meaning complete paralysis, to “E,” in which motor and sensory scores fall within the normal range for an individual of the patient’s age class.

Classifying the injury level and type will be an important step in the treatment of a spinal cord injury. By identifying the location of the injury, and the extent of the damage, doctors will be able to determine the risks that the patient might face as a result of the injury, the types of treatment options available to the patient, and the long-term prognosis for treatment and possible recovery.