Spinal cord injuries suffered in car accidents are incredibly common and sometimes they can turn out to be far worse than Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) or emergency room doctors may have diagnosed at the scene of the accident or immediately after. This can be due to swelling, adrenaline masking pain, and more serious injuries taking priority causing medical staff to miss other injuries that they consider minor at the time.
Spinal cord compression is one of those accidents that can be overlooked, but research has shown can have serious consequences on the victim that last far into the future. It can happen in many different ways in a car accident, but essentially is caused by pressure on the spine. The vertebrae compress together, which can cause a myriad of problems such as herniated disks and spinal cord swelling, but worse, may seriously effect the nerves.
Symptoms of Spinal Cord Compression
These spinal cord injuries can be masked initially by pain medications and if left untreated or not adequately treated, according to some new research, can lead to some serious motor control issues and problems with brain function. But how do you know they’re happening?
Symptoms of spinal cord compression:
Bowel and Bladder Issues – Several victims of spinal cord compression have found that their injury effects their bowel and bladder function. These issues range from constipation to incontinence. Victims with more severe spinal cord compression may require the use of a catheter to empty their bladder or a suppository to empty their bowels.
Pain – Spinal cord compression pain ranges from minor discomfort to severe radiating pain, depending on the degree of nerve damage or disruption. It may be localized (close to the site of injury), or it may radiate down a nerve or nerves to other areas of the body.
Muscle Weakness – When spinal cord compression involves motor nerves (the nerves that supply the muscles), muscles may be weak or incapacitated. How this weakness is manifested depends on the location of the compression. High cervical spinal cord compression might make it hard to lift the arms, whereas a lower cervical compression may cause a weaker grip. More serious spinal cord compression can effect the muscles in the lower body.
Muscle Spasms – When spinal cord nerves are compressed, they may cause certain muscles to flex or tighten. These spastic muscles may remain “frozen” in a certain position or may simply take longer than usual to relax. Muscle spasms may also occur. Depending on the degree of cervical spinal cord compression as well as the level of the injury, spasticity may affect the muscles of the arms, legs or both.
Sensory Changes – The cervical spine contains nerves that detect sensations in the upper extremities and pressure due to a spinal cord compression injury can change the way the brain interprets how things feel. Victims have reported a tingling, pins and needles, or numbness in their shoulders, arms or hands. In cases of severe cervical spinal cord compression, a person may suffer paralysis.
Spinal Cord Compression Research
Spinal cord compression can lead to spinal cord degeneration, which can either be treated by physical therapy or surgery. Medical professionals are still trying to understand the relationship between the spinal cord and the brain. Thus, this makes many in the medical establishment reluctant to turn to surgery on either the brain or spinal cord without more of an understanding of this relationship.
Thus the research study just conducted by Dr. Duggal, an associate professor in the Department of Clinical Neurological Sciences at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, Dr. Bartha, an imaging scientist with Schulich’s Robarts Research Institute and an associate professor in the Department of Medical Biophysics, and Kowalczyk, a PhD candidate.
“When patients undergo surgery for spinal cord compression, some improve, some stay static and some continue to get worse. We’re trying to understand which patients we can actually help and which patients will have limited benefit from surgery,” Dr. Duggal said.
They studied 11 healthy “control” patients and 24 patients with reversible spinal cord compression. Researchers had the study participants do a simple motor task, tapping their fingers, while undergoing a 3 Tesla functional MRI scan. This test identified the parts of the brain that were involved in performing this movement, which is often impaired in patients with spinal cord compression. According to this study, the patients with spinal cord compressions also had changes in the motor cortex of the brain.
“We’re looking not only at the mechanisms of the spinal cord, but also, what’s happening in the brain and how it responds to injury in the spinal cord, and whether there is any plasticity or ability in the brain to compensate for injury,” the study said.
Once researchers had localized the area, they examined it using proton-magnetic resonance spectroscopy to look at a range of different chemicals or metabolites such as neurotransmitters and amino acids. The goal was to determine whether the levels of these chemicals were any different in the subjects with spinal cord compression.
“Surprisingly, we saw a 15% decrease in the level of N-acetylaspartate to creatine in those with spinal cord compression. And this is really interesting because N-acetylaspartate is an amino acid that goes down when you have neuronal injury or when neurons are dying,” said Dr. Bartha. “I wasn’t expecting to see such a large change in the brain from spinal cord compression.”
The researchers are still trying to untangle whether this change is something that occurs over time, with the injury from the spinal cord propagating back into the brain. This finding has implications for whether or not the condition is reversible, and who may benefit from surgical procedures. The next step, currently underway, is to study whether metabolic levels in the brain change after surgery.
Washington Spinal Cord Injury Attorney
As you can see, compression injuries in a car accident can result in long term consequences that could keep the victim from being able to retain their same level of employment and could seriously effect their quality of life. Victims with suppressed motor and brain function could find themselves eventually not being able to conduct normal tasks and could require expensive help to retain some semblance of a normal life. This requires ample compensation for the negligent parties that caused the car accident.
Phillips Law Firm is a full service law firm with a substantial track record of success Personal Injury Litigation. We take the time to fully assess the injured party’s case in order to assure that the victim receives the compensation they deserve. Call our Personal Injury Attorneys today for a free consultation.