Causes and Diagnoses

Causes and Diagnoses of an Acute Spinal Cord Injury

There are many causes of an acute spinal cord injury (SCI), but most occur when the area of the spine or neck is bent or compressed. The most common causes of SCI are:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Falls
  • Violence (gunshots or stab wounds)
  • Sports injuries
  • Diving accidents
  • Trampoline accidents


To diagnose an acute spinal cord injury, your physician will perform a physical exam, including a neurological exam. This will help identify the exact location of your injury, if it is not already known. Some of your reflexes may be abnormal or absent. Once swelling goes down, some of your reflexes may slowly recover.

The following tests may be ordered to further diagnose your SCI:

  • CT scan or MRI: These imaging studies may indicate the location and extent of the damage and reveal problems, such as hematomas (blood clots).
  • Myelogram: An X-ray of your spine after injection of dye may be necessary in rare cases.
  • Somatosensory evoked potential (SSEP) testing or magnetic stimulation: These tests may demonstrate if nerve signals can pass through your spinal cord.
  • Spine X-rays: These may show fracture or damage to the bones of your spine.