Overview

What Is an Acute Spinal Cord Injury?

The spinal cord contains the nerves that carry messages between the brain and the rest of the body. The spinal cord starts at the brain and extends down the neck and back inside the vertebrae.

An acute spinal cord injury (SCI) is a sudden traumatic injury that can result in a bruise, a partial injury or a complete injury to the spinal cord.

  • Partial spinal cord injury: Sometimes called an incomplete injury, the spinal cord is able to carry some messages to and from the brain to the rest of the body.
  • Complete spinal cord injury: The spinal cord is unable to carry messages to and from the brain to the rest of the body, resulting in a near-total loss of motor and sensory function.

Spinal cord injuries are classified according to the type of loss of motor and sensory function. The main classifications are:

  • Quadriplegia (tetraplegia): Involves loss of movement and sensation in all four limbs (arms and legs) and in the chest muscles, sometimes requiring a mechanical breathing machine
  • Paraplegia: Involves loss of movement and sensation in the lower half of the body

Complications

Possible complications of a spinal cord injury can include extreme changes in blood pressure (autonomic hyperreflexia) as well as:

  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Pulmonary infections
  • Skin breakdown
  • Contractures
  • Increased risk of injury to numb areas of your body
  • Increased risk of kidney damage
  • Increased risk of urinary tract infections
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control
  • Loss of sensation
  • Loss of sexual functioning
  • Muscle spasticity
  • Pain
  • Paralysis of breathing muscles
  • Paralysis (paraplegia, quadriplegia)
  • Shock

Prevention

Safety practices during work and recreation can prevent many spinal cord injuries. Use proper protective equipment and use caution when participating in certain activities:

  • Diving into shallow water is a major cause of spinal cord trauma. Always check the depth of water before diving, and look for rocks or other possible obstructions.
  • Football and sledding injuries often involve sharp blows or abnormal twisting and bending of the back or neck and can result in spinal cord trauma. Use caution when sledding and inspect the area for obstacles. Use appropriate techniques and equipment when playing football or other contact sports.
  • Falls while climbing at work or during recreation can result in spinal cord injuries.
  • Defensive driving and wearing seat belts greatly reduces the risk of serious injury if there is an automobile accident.

The Northwestern Medicine Spine Center

The Northwestern Medicine Spine Center, part of the Center for Comprehensive Orthopaedic and Spine Care (CCOSC) at Northwestern Memorial Hospital uses the very latest surgical techniques to treat acute and chronic spinal disorders. By making use of leading-edge techniques and technology, regenerative- and nanotechnology-based bone graft substitutes, computer-navigated surgery, minimally-invasive spine surgery and stereotactic radiosurgery, the Northwestern Medicine Spine Center offers programs for the management of:

  • Spinal deformity
  • Spine oncology
  • Degenerative disk disease
  • Failed neck or back surgery syndrome
  • Peripheral nerve compression syndromes
  • Peripheral nerve injuries
  • Rheumatologic disorders of the spine
  • Spinal fractures and other traumatic injuries
  • Work-related injuries
  • Sports-related back and neck injuries

The Spine Center works with the departments of:

  • Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
  • Orthopaedic Surgery
  • Neurological Surgery

It also works with divisions of:

  • Neuroradiology
  • Neuropsychology
  • Musculoskeletal Radiology

This provides a truly interdisciplinary approach to managing diseases of the spine.

Additional CCOSC locations include:

Northwestern Medicine River Forest
420 Thatcher Ave.
River Forest, IL
60305

Northwestern Medicine Elmhurst
1200 S. York Road
Elmhurst, IL
60126

To schedule an appointment at the Northwestern Medicine Spine Center, please call 855.466.7746.

The Northwestern Medicine Spine Center

The Northwestern Medicine Spine Center, part of the Center for Comprehensive Orthopaedic and Spine Care (CCOSC) at Northwestern Memorial Hospital uses the very latest surgical techniques to treat acute and chronic spinal disorders. By making use of leading-edge techniques and technology, regenerative- and nanotechnology-based bone graft substitutes, computer-navigated surgery, minimally-invasive spine surgery and stereotactic radiosurgery, the Northwestern Medicine Spine Center offers programs for the management of:
  • Spinal deformity
  • Spine oncology
  • Degenerative disk disease
  • Failed neck or back surgery syndrome
  • Peripheral nerve compression syndromes
  • Peripheral nerve injuries
  • Rheumatologic disorders of the spine
  • Spinal fractures and other traumatic injuries
  • Work-related injuries
  • Sports-related back and neck injuries
The Spine Center works with the departments of:
  • Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
  • Orthopaedic Surgery
  • Neurological Surgery
It also works with divisions of:
  • Neuroradiology
  • Neuropsychology
  • Musculoskeletal Radiology

This provides a truly interdisciplinary approach to managing diseases of the spine.

To schedule an appointment at Lake Forest Hospital please call our neurosurgery department at 847.535.7271.


Integrated Spine Program

The spine specialists from Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital and Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital offer the latest advances in spine care at convenient office locations in the western suburbs. Including:

Our spine specialists blend innovation and skill to help restore your movement and improve your quality of life. We offer comprehensive back pain management plans to help you overcome spine problems, so you can enjoy life with less pain. The Northwestern Medicine spine specialists are a highly-experienced, collaborative team comprised of board-certified physicians including neurosurgeons, orthopaedic spine surgeons, and physical medicine specialists, as well as nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists and chiropractors, all with training and experience in spine, back and neck care.

To schedule an appointment with one of our spine specialists, call 630.933.BACK (2225).

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