Signs of a Spinal Cord Injury

The spinal cord is a long, thin bundle of nerves that runs from your brain to the lower part of your spine.  Together with your brain, the spinal cord makes up your central nervous system.  Pathways or “tracts” in your spinal cord carry signals from your brain to different parts of your body and back.  There are two types of nerves or tracts.  “Motor tracts” carry messages from your brain that control muscles.  “Sensory tracts” carry signals from body parts such as hands and feet to the brain regarding heat, cold, pain, pressure and the position of your body.

A spinal cord injury occurs when any part of the spinal cord or nerves at the end of the spinal cord are damaged.  Spinal cord injury results from damage to the vertebrae (the bones that make up your spine), ligaments that connect the vertebrae, or disks (shock-absorbing pads that separate your vertebrae) of the spinal column or to the spinal cord itself.  Regardless of the cause, the damage affects the nerve fibers located in the injured area and may affect your muscles and nerves below the injury site.  For example, a spinal cord injury at the chest or lower back can affect your legs, bowel and bladder control, and sexual function.  An injury at the neck can also impair arm movement and even your ability to breathe.

Common causes of spinal cord injuries include motor vehicle crashes, falls, violent trauma (gunshot and knife wounds), sports and recreational injuries (diving accidents), and diseases (cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis, and inflammation).

Signs and symptoms of a spinal cord injury include loss of sensation (touch), loss of movement (motor control), loss of strength (weakness), loss of bowel or bladder control, exaggerated reflexes or spasms, pain or intense stinging in your spinal cord area, difficulty breathing, and changes in sexual sensitivity and function.

Spinal cord injury is considered a medical emergency.  Anyone who experiences significant trauma to his head, neck, or back requires prompt medical evaluation, particularly since a serious spinal cord injury may not be immediately obvious.  Likewise, if you or someone you know experience any of the signs and symptoms of spinal cord injury, even without trauma, immediate medical attention is necessary.

If someone has suffered a severe neck injury, do not move the person, especially the head and neck, unless failure to do so presents an immediate threat to their life (such as removing a person from a burning car). Call 911 for life support and help. If you must move a person with a potential neck injury because of urgent danger to their life, keep their head and neck immobile and move their entire body as one unit.  Do the same if you need to roll them over.  To roll a victim over, you will need at least two people – one at the victim’s head and one at their feet.[1] You must be very careful; you do not want to make their injuries worse by causing more damage or injury to their spinal cord.

About Jason W. Konvicka: Jason W. Konvicka is personal injury attorney experienced in handling catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases.  He is a member of the medical malpractice team at Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen.  He also represents persons severely injured through the use of defective drugs and medical devices.  Jason has achieved impressive verdicts and settlements for clients in spinal cord injury, wrongful death, traumatic brain injury, and tractor trailer accident cases.  Mr. Konvicka is AV rated by Martindale-Hubble and is listed in Best Lawyers in America. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy and he has successfully argued before the Virginia Supreme Court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

[1] For more information, see