Most spinal cord injuries develop due to trauma which damages the vertebrae protecting the spinal cord. Some rare diseases and congenital conditions can also result in injury to the cord due to a weakened spinal column, blood flow problems, or rupturing of the protective sheath around the cord.
Since the 31 major nerves of the body emerge directly from the spinal cord, damage to it can shut down your organs, affect your ability to move, or shut down your autonomous body functions like breathing and circulation.
Symptoms depend on the amount of damage to the cord and the location of the compression or swelling. Paralysis and lack of sensation are the primary symptoms associated with spinal damage. Spinal cord injuries are rated by severity, ranging from no effect on motor function to complete loss of movement.
Other symptoms associated with severe cord injuries include loss of bladder and bowel control, trouble breathing, depressed heart rate, lack of circulation, and muscle spasms.
Most spinal cord injuries are emergencies that require emergency treatment. With prompt surgery to reduce compression on the cord due to a fractured vertebrae or tumor, the cord can be preserved and permanent paralysis is often prevented.
Even if paralysis sets in, many patients recover some or all of their motor functions with intensive physical therapy and rehabilitation. Each spinal cord injury must be treated based on the cause of the damage, so one case may require medication while the next calls for surgery.