Injuries to the spinal cord are typically considered catastrophic injuries, as they can affect the entire body. Spinal cord injuries (SCIs), depending on the location and type, are permanent and can cause full or partial paralysis. In the hours and days following a serious accident, you – or the loved ones of someone who’s suffered an SCI – are likely concerned about the extent of your injury. In addition, you may be worried about your future and how your injury will affect you for the rest of your life.
A major factor in determining the severity of your spinal cord injury lies in the diagnosis, and whether your SCI is complete or incomplete. However, your mind is likely elsewhere when dealing with the trauma, pain, and shock following an accident. Today, our attorneys will explain the difference between complete and incomplete spinal cord injuries, how they’re diagnosed and treated, and your legal options when someone else caused your injury.
The difference between complete and incomplete SCIs
The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC) publishes an annual fact sheet about traumatic spinal cord injuries, including demographic and use of service data. For 2021, they report approximately 299,000 Americans living with SCI, and about 18,000 new cases every year. Approximately 32% of these cases are complete spinal cord injuries.
Doctors categorize spinal injuries into two general types:
- Complete, which happens when the spinal cord is fully severed or crushed, hindering the brain’s ability to send signals past the point of injury. This means SCI patients have a total (or complete) loss of function and sensation below the injury site on both sides of the body.
- Incomplete, when the spinal cord retains some amount of function below the injury site. This means patients may have varying degrees of sensation and function on either side, like being able to move one leg or arm better than the other.
How will my Atlanta doctor diagnose my spinal cord injury?
If you or your loved one have suffered a spinal cord injury, immediate emergency medical intervention will be needed. Physicians and specialists will check for sensation or movement at the site of or below your injury. They may also use diagnostic tests like X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans. It’s important to remember that swelling can cause a delay in diagnosis after a traumatic SCI. After swelling subsides, physicians and neurologists can make a more detailed diagnosis.
Per the National Institute of Health (NIH), your doctors will also check for both primary and secondary damage: “Primary damage is immediate and is caused directly by the injury. Secondary damage results from inflammation and swelling that can press on the spinal cord and vertebrae, as well as from changes in the activity of cells and cell death.”
How will doctors treat my complete spinal cord injury?
You will receive emergency (also called acute) treatment for your SCI at the scene of your Atlanta accident and immediately following. This can include stabilizing your neck and back, surgeries to remove bone fragments, and removing any objects pressing on the spinal column. After acute treatment and a diagnosis, individualized treatment for your injury begins.
Because complete spinal cord injuries are considered catastrophic and permanent, treatment focuses on rehabilitation and having the best quality of life. The NIH notes that SCI patients are best served by a team of experts, “led by a doctor specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation (called a physiatrist) and often includes social workers, physical and occupational therapists, recreational therapists, rehabilitation nurses, rehabilitation psychologists, vocational counselors, nutritionists, a case worker, and other specialists.”
Rehabilitation includes physical, occupational, recreational therapy, and vocational rehabilitation and educational training. Patients may also be fitted with adaptive devices, like “a wheelchair, electronic stimulators, assisted training with walking, neural prostheses (assistive devices that may stimulate the nerves to restore lost functions), computer adaptations, and other computer-assisted technology.”
What’s the current research on spinal cord injuries?
Scientists continue investigating ways to treat SCIs in the hopes they can one day be reversed. For example, the Spinal Cord Injury Research Program at Mayo Clinic states:
People with spinal cord injuries face health challenges that affect their quality of life. Therapeutic strategies primarily focus on alleviating secondary conditions associated with paralysis; however, recent novel interventions have revealed the potential for recovery of motor function in this population. Investigators in the Spinal Cord Research Program at Mayo Clinic recognize that both approaches are necessary and important directions for future development and research.
The NIH also participates in research and solutions through its BRAIN initiative.
What causes complete spinal cord injuries?
The NSCISC reports the following top causes of spinal cord injury between 2010 and 2020:
- Vehicular crashes (38.09%)
- Falls (31.22%)
- Violence (14.22%)
- Sports and recreation (8.52%)
- Other, including medical complications (4.33%)
Spinal cord injuries are incredibly serious and incredibly expensive. Further, the majority of SCIs occur in entirely preventable accidents.
Who is liable for my Atlanta spinal cord injury?
When you or a loved one suffers an SCI because of another’s negligence, you’re eligible to file a personal injury claim against the responsible party. Depending on the circumstances of the incident, liable parties can include the following:
- At-fault driver in a motor vehicle accident
- Owner of dangerous premises or property
- Person who assaulted you
- Physician or surgeon who caused your injury
- School district that contributed to your injury
- Manufacturer of a defective vehicle or product.
The attorneys at Harris Lowry Manton LLP work to hold the right people responsible for your spinal cord injury and to ensure you secure the compensation to which you’re entitled. If you want to talk to an experienced and compassionate injury lawyer today, call our Atlanta office at 404-998-8847, our Savannah office at 912-417-3774, or fill out our contact page and schedule your free initial consultation today.
Jed Manton is committed to representing individuals and business that have been harmed by the actions of others. With a solid track record, Jed has helped numerous clients who have been seriously injured or who have lost a loved one obtain justice, while holding the wrongdoer accountable.
Read more about Jed D. Manton here.