The symptoms you experience with a spinal cord injury depend on both the severity of the injury and its location. Different parts of the spine send signals to different parts of the body. The higher in the spinal cord the injury, the more function is lost.
There are two overall areas that are affected. One is movement, as your spinal cord delivers messages from your brain to your muscles. The other is sensation, as the spinal cord itself enables you to feel, touch, and experience heat, cold, and pain, as it sends signals back to the brain.
Someone who has all or part of the trunk, legs, and pelvic organs affected is said to have paraplegia. The terms quadriplegia or tetraplegia refer to the condition of having those areas, plus the arms and hands, affected.
Taking all this into account, immediate symptoms can include:
- Loss of movement
- Altered or lost sensation (no feeling, or unable to recognize heat or cold)
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Difficulty breathing
If, after an accident or injury, you are or someone else is experiencing weakness, lack of coordination, numbness, or paralysis, get immediate medical attention. Extent of injury is not always evident, as swelling or bleeding may occur slowly around the spinal cord. Always assume that a trauma will cause an injury, and call 911. The time between injury and treatment is critical.
If you or someone else has a back or neck injury or accident:
- Don’t move them!
- Call 911.
- Keep the person still.
- Hold or brace head and neck to prevent movement.
- Provide basic first aid without moving head or neck.