Spinal Cord Trauma

What is spinal cord trauma?

Spinal cord trauma occurs due to spinal cord injuries that cause damage to the spinal column, intervertebral discs, ligaments and vertebrae. A spinal cord injury may occur due to an immediate blow, fracture or dislocation. For example, a knife or gunshot wound can penetrate the skin and sever the spinal cord, injury from motor vehicle accident, pedestrian injury, fall from height and falls.

Commonly, spinal cord injuries occur due to falls, which are common in elderly people, motor vehicle accidents, violent encounters, sports-related injuries and degenerative diseases (arthritis, cancer, osteoporosis, spinal cord inflammation and other related spinal cord injuries).

Further related damage such as bleeding, inflammation, swelling and fluid build-up in the spinal cord requires treatment. A traumatic injury affects the nerve fibres that move through the injured site. As a result, damage to the nerve fibres affects the muscles and nerves below the injured area.

What are the symptoms?

Warning signs of spinal cord injuries include:

Severe back pain

Increased pressure on the head, neck or back

A prickling feeling in the toes, feet, hands and fingers

Trouble with gait

Loss of bladder and bowel control

Difficulty breathing

How do you treat spinal cord trauma?

Damage to the spinal cord is irreversible. However, research in the field is ongoing because the development of medications and prostheses will aid in nerve cell regeneration and restore the function of the nerves.

After the injury, Dr Bomela turns her attention to preventing contractures, pressure-induced ulcers, respiratory infections, the formation of blood clots and bowel and bladder problems.

Your hospital stay depends on your specific medical situation and underlying medical conditions. Surgical repair consists of the removal of foreign matter (bone spurs, herniated discs and fractured pieces of vertebrae). Afterwards, Dr Bomela prioritises stabilising the spine to reduce pain and the risk of spinal deformity.

The patient is expected to recover after six months, but sometimes a full recovery can be expected between one to two years.


1. What surgery is commonly performed for a spinal cord injury?

Decompression and spinal fusion are commonly performed together. These surgical procedures are performed to improve the patient’s quality of life. Surgery aims to minimise pain and prevent the progression of nerve-related damage, such as loss of bowel and bladder control and muscle weakness.

2. Is the damage from a spinal cord injury permanent?

Unfortunately, a complete spinal cord injury is permanent. However, with an incomplete injury, spinal functions can improve over time.

3. Will it take long to walk again after a spinal cord injury?

You can begin to start walking again six months after surgery.