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Spinal Shock: What It Means And How To Recover From It

Woman assisting bedridden man with neck cast

When you experience a spinal cord injury, you’re likely to have a spinal shock. Most patients are curious about the recovery process because of the complex nature of the spine.

Typically, spinal shock comes with several symptoms, such as sensory loss and paralysis. The good thing is that many people recover partially or fully from it. In this post, we’re going to share more about the shock.

Read on to learn more.

Understanding the Spinal Cord

For you to grasp the effect of the shock, it helps to understand how the spinal cord works.

The nerves in the body are like a network of connected lines. All of them connect to the brain, and the spinal cord is the main line that connects nearly all body parts to the brain.

The cord begins from the brain stem and goes all the way to the bottom of the spine. It runs through the spinal canal, and a layer of cerebral fluid cushions it. It’s also protected by the spine (vertebrae).

Together with the brain, the spinal cord forms the central nervous system (CNS). This is why it helps the rest of the body to communicate with the brain.

Due to the intricacy of the central nervous system, any impact to the spinal cord is likely to affect several body functions.

What Is Spinal Shock?

This condition is simply a temporary reduction or loss of reflexes after an injury. It’s usually a combination of hyporeflexia and autonomic dysfunction.

The shock occurs just a few minutes after the spinal injury, but it takes time for its full effect to advance. When it occurs, the nervous system is usually unable to relay signals. The average patient may experience this for about 4 to 6 weeks after the injury.

In some severe cases, the shock can last for months. In more rare cases, it can also be permanent depending on the severity of the injury. This also means the patient may experience permanent paralysis affecting the patient’s body function, movement, and sensation.

The shock occurs in different degrees, and it’s only through a diagnosis that doctors that understand your case.

Symptoms of this Condition

After an injury, the spinal cord will swell. This means that impulses will not travel through the damaged parts. Ideally, the communication with the brain only works if the impulses travel up and down the cord.

Person clutching back in pain

As a result, you’ll experience several symptoms alongside the spinal shock. Bear in mind that they may appear in stages after the injury. The first stage is usually hyporeflexia, which is the partial or full loss of spinal cord reflexes.

The second stage is the initial return of some of the reflexes. This occurs two to three days following the injury. The reflexes tend to return in phases with polysynaptic reflexes coming first. Bulbocavernosus reflex will then follow them.

Patterns of unusually strong reflexes characterize the third and fourth stages. This is known as hyperreflexia and usually offers between one week to 12 months after the injury.

The common symptoms include:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Back pain
  • Dry and pale skin
  • Depressed genital reflexes
  • Increased bowel pressure
  • Loss of sensation in your legs or arms
  • Difficult balancing
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Poor sexual function
  • Overall body weakness
  • Stinging sensation in the spine

Please note that not all patients will experience the same symptoms. They differ depending on the severity and the location of the injury. It’s impossible to predict the kind of reaction your body will experience after a spinal cord injury.

It helps to work with a doctor during the first few days after the injury to monitor the onset of symptoms.

Emergency Steps

If you or your loved one has a spinal shock, it’s advisable to avoid movement. Moving the patient without professional assistance could possibly worsen the condition.

It’s best to call 911 immediately after a person has sustained a spinal injury. You can use a towel or your hands to support the patients back, head, or neck until help arrives. This helps to minimize the effects of the trauma.

Parademics will implement the necessary measures before transporting the patient. They will use a rigid neck collar and a carrying board to immobilize the spine. The board is also used to transport the patient.

Treatment of the Shock

As noted before, spinal shock occurs during the spinal cord injury.

Effective treatment for the spinal shock hinges on the treatment of the spine injury. There are various treatments for spinal chord injuries including surgery, traction, and medication (Medrol). A  decompression laminectomy is a surgical procedure to remove tissue or fluid that is pressing on the spinal cord.

Traction is used to align and stabilize the spine properly. You can also get the Medrol medication within 8 hours of the injury. This steroid medication works by reducing nerve cell damage.

Rehabilitation is also necessary for managing the injury. This includes physical therapy, using assistive and adaptive devices, occupational therapy, and vocational therapy. Others are electrical stimulation, coping strategies, and recreational therapy.

The success of these treatments and rehabilitation after a spinal cord injury will help to improve your spinal chock.

Spinal Injury Shock – Final Thoughts

Sustaining a spinal cord injury can be quite painful. Plus, it will affect your physical ability and regular routine. Seeking treatment immediately after the injury will help to prevent a severe shock.

Depending on the severity of the injury, you may need to change your diet and activities to allow for optimal recovery. In some cases, patients need to work with a physical rehabilitation team to speed up the recovery process.

At Comprehensive Spine Institute, we help you find the right treatment for your case. We offer different services, including surgery, physical therapy, and neurostimulation, to help manage your injury.

If you have any question regarding spinal shock, just reach out to us, and we’ll be glad to help.

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