Between 183,000 and 230,000 people in the United States live with some sort of severe spinal cord injury caused by major trauma, like car accidents or a fall. But if you factor in nontraumatic spinal cord injuries (NTSCI), that number probably quadruples.
Unfortunately, spinal cord injury symptoms can be debilitating and may cause loss of function, pain or paralysis. In most cases, the sooner spinal cord injury treatment starts, the better the outcome. Most people are able to recover from nontraumatic spinal cord injuries with the help of their doctors. Learning more about these types of injuries — including how they're diagnosed and treated — can help you stay healthy.
Types of Nontraumatic Spinal Cord Injuries
Spinal cord injuries occur for a number of reasons. It's thought that NTSCIs are actually much more common than traumatic spinal cord injuries, especially among older people. In general, NTSCIs are classified into five different categories:
- Vascular: The cause of this injury involves blood vessels or the blood itself.
- Cancerous: Many different types of cancers (neoplasms) can affect the spinal cord.
- Infectious: Like any other part of your body, your spinal cord can become infected by germs, which can cause inflammation and other issues.
- Degenerative: Usually caused by wear and tear, degenerative injuries result from the breakdown of spinal cord tissue.
- Other: This category includes factors like medications, genetic diseases and some neurological conditions.
Because NTSCIs result from many different types of problems, it's important to determine the actual cause of your injury in order to create the most effective treatment plan. Your symptoms are one way to help pinpoint the cause of your injury.
If your doctor suspects that you have an NTSCI, they will thoroughly investigate your spinal cord injury symptoms. Your doctor will ask questions about your personal medical history, including any history of recent infections, other types of bone problems like osteoporosis, and whether or not you use certain medications.
The diagnostic process also involves a physical examination and additional tests, which will provide clues about your spinal health. Your doctor may order blood tests, imaging tests such as X-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, or a myelogram, which uses a special dye injected into your spinal cord to help your doctor visualize problems on X-ray.
Once the cause of your NTSCI is determined, your doctor will devise a course of treatment that will help alleviate symptoms and prevent further damage to your spinal cord. Spinal cord injury treatment may involve medications to treat infection or surgery to remove blood clots or correct herniated discs. Once you've begun to heal, your doctor may recommend rehabilitation services, such as physical therapy, to help you regain mobility and function.
Doctors estimate that as many as 76 percent of people with NTSCIs are discharged to heal at home, My Virtual Medical Center says. Your course of treatment depends on the underlying cause of your condition and the severity of your injury. The best way to make recovery more likely is to seek out prompt medical treatment if you experience spinal cord injury symptoms. By working together with your doctor, you can give yourself the best chance at getting back to your normal life.