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Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal Cord Injury

A spinal injury involves any damage to the spinal cord, typically due to trauma or other medical conditions. It could be classified as incomplete or complete, depending on the extent of damage. Spinal injuries may cause chronic pain and loss of mobility and sensation.

Medically reviewed by Dr Chua Soo Yong ,
Consultant Orthopaedic & Spine Surgeon
MBBS (S’pore), MRCS (Edinburgh), MMed (Ortho),FRCS (Ortho), FAMS (Ortho)

What is a Spinal Injury?

A spinal injury refers to any type of injury that affects the spinal column, which is composed of bones (vertebrae), discs, and ligaments. This can include injuries to the bones, ligaments, and discs of the spine, which may or may not involve damage to the spinal cord.

The Spinal Column (Backbone)

The spinal column, commonly known as the backbone, is a protective layer of bone that covers the spinal cord. It is composed of 33 individual bones (vertebrae) stacked on top of each other, extending from the skull to the pelvis. Aside from protecting the spinal cord and nerve roots, the vertebral column serves other functions, such as:

  • Providing structural support for the head, shoulders, and chest
  • Connecting the upper and lower body for balance and weight distribution
  • Allowing for flexibility and mobility in one’s back
  • Producing red blood cells (in the bone marrow)

What are the Types of Spinal Injuries?

Vertebral Injury

Vertebral injuries can either be a fracture or a dislocation. Fractures refer to any break in the vertebrae, while dislocation occurs when the vertebrae are out of place or not lining up properly. There are different types of fractures and dislocations, which include:

  • Compression Fracture – Characterised by a small break or crack in front of the vertebrae, this fracture causes an individual to stoop forward and downward over time.
  • Burst Fracture – A serious injury to the spine, this condition occurs when the vertebra is severely compressed and shattered in multiple directions.
  • Subluxation – A term used to describe a partial dislocation of the bone, this condition occurs when the muscles and ligaments in the spine are ruptured and the vertebrae slip out of place.
  • Dislocation – When the ligaments are seriously injured, it may cause the vertebrae to move too much and “lock” over each other on one or both sides, damaging the spinal cord.
Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)

Spinal cord injuries can vary widely in their nature and impact, ranging from incomplete injuries, which may allow for some function below the injury site, to complete injuries, resulting in total loss of sensation and mobility.

  • Complete SCI: This results in a total loss of sensation and movement below the injury site, leading to paralysis and loss of bodily functions.
  • Incomplete SCI: Here, some sensory or motor function remains below the injury level, ranging from minor weakness to significant impairments.
  • Paraplegia and Tetraplegia: Paraplegia affects the lower body, while tetraplegia involves paralysis in both arms and legs. The injury level determines which condition occurs.

What are the Symptoms of Spinal Injury?

The symptoms of a spinal injury vary depending on the type, severity and location of the injury; as well as the degree of sensation lost. The symptoms may manifest immediately or gradually. Common symptoms include:

  • Loss of mobility or motor function
  • Severe pain in the neck or back
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Reduced or loss of sensation in the limbs
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Weakness, incoordination, or paralysis in any part of the body
  • Deformity along the spine
  • Difficulty with balance and coordination

How Are Spinal Injuries Diagnosed?

As spine injuries are emergencies, the medical team will first ensure that the injury does not affect the patient’s breathing or heart rate. If the patient is still awake and breathing, the medical team may then assess the state of their nerves by checking their sensory function (sense of touch) and movement (motor function).

In cases where the patient has lost consciousness or has obvious neurological injuries, diagnostic tests will be performed to identify the type of spinal injury incurred. These tests include imaging tests to evaluate the condition of the spinal column, spinal cord, and brain.

  • X-rays – This is used to assess if there are any damages to the vertebrae, fractures, dislocations, or changes in the spine.
  • MRI – This provides a detailed image of the spinal cord or soft tissues to check for herniated discs or blood clots.
  • CT scan – This offers a clearer view of the bones to assess the presence of broken bones or discs, blood clots, or blood vessel damage.

What are the Treatment Options for Spinal Injuries?

Spinal injuries are treated through a combination of medical, surgical, and rehabilitative approaches. In mild cases of injuries, non-surgical methods may be used at first, including pain management, physiotherapy, and immobilization with braces. These techniques aim to reduce pain and inflammation, strengthen one’s muscles, and promote the body's natural healing processes.

In more severe cases, however, surgery may be necessary. Procedures like laminectomy, discectomy, and spinal fusion are performed to alleviate pressure on the spinal cord, stabilize the spine, or repair damaged discs. Spine surgeons utilize advanced techniques, including minimally invasive procedures, to minimise tissue disruption and facilitate quicker recovery.

Following surgery, rehabilitation plays a crucial role in recovery. Physiotherapy and lifestyle modifications are key to improving strength, flexibility, and overall function of the spine and spinal cord.

Dr Chua Soo Yong
Consultant Orthopaedic & Spine Surgeon
MBBS (S’pore), MRCS (Edinburgh), MMed (Ortho), FRCS (Ortho), FAMS (Ortho)

Dr Chua Soo Yong is an experienced orthopaedic and spine surgeon specialising in treating all types of conditions associated with the spine. Dr Chua was the former Deputy Chief of Spine Service at Changi General Hospital – a testament to his expertise and commitment to his patients. In addition to his medical practice, Dr Chua is actively involved in the research of spinal cord injuries and regeneration, and has published several articles in established medical journals about the spine.

Make an appointment with our specialist, Dr Chua Soo Yong, at 6262 0555 today.
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We are well-equipped to diagnose and treat all back, spine, and neck injuries.

3 Mount Elizabeth Suite #06-09,
Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre
Singapore 228510

Tel : 6262 0555
Fax : 6684 0985
Mon to Fri : 9.00am - 5.30pm
Sat : 9.00am - 1.30pm
Closed on Sunday and Public Holidays
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Atlas Spine & Orthopaedic Surgery Centre provides subspecialty back and spine treatments tailored to each patient’s needs. For a detailed consultation, make an appointment with us at 6262 0555 today.