Spinal trauma describes any injury to the spinal column or spinal cord. This includes fractures of the vertebrae and injury to the spinal cord. Spinal cord injury can be one of the most devastating types of trauma because it can impair the spinal cord's ability to facilitate communication between the brain and the rest of the body. Major causes of spinal trauma include falls, auto accidents and gunshots.
The higher on the spinal cord the injury, the more loss of function the patient will experience. Loss of function also varies with severity of spinal cord injury which can range from complete to incomplete. Spinal cord injury can be diagnosed with a physical examination and correlating radiographic studies (x-ray, CT scan, MRI).
Surgery may be a treatment option depending on the mechanism of injury and if it is possible to relieve some of the pressure on the spinal cord. Patients with spinal cord injury are vulnerable to many secondary medical complications as a result of their neurological deficits and mobility challenges. Patients whose spinal trauma is limited to vertebral fractures generally have better clinical outcomes. To avoid spinal trauma, it is advisable to wear protective gear such as helmets, avoid dangerous heights, always wear a safety belt, dive only where marked safe (adequate depth) and always practice firearm safety.