The spinal cord acts as a crucial pathway between the brain and the rest of the body. Apart from being the information processing center, it plays a significant role in body movements, sensations, and functions. In case of any injury to the spinal cord, depending on the severity of the injury, different parts of the body can lose function or mobility. While back injuries are likely to damage bones or soft tissues in the spine, they are not the same as spinal cord injuries, since they don’t always affect the spinal cord. Let’s dig deeper to understand some of the symptoms and treatments for injuries caused in the lumbar vertebrae of the spinal cord.
Types of Spinal Injuries
On a generic level, most spinal cord injuries are a result of a sudden, traumatic blow to the vertebrae in the back, which would normally require surgery, medication, or physical therapy to fix it. Depending on the cause of the injury or trauma, spinal cord injuries can be classified as complete or incomplete (i.e. partial).
- Complete: A complete injury causes a total lack of function or paralysis below the level of the injury. It is known to affect both sides of the body, and can paralyse all four limbs (quadriplegia) or just the lower half of the body (paraplegia).
- Incomplete: In the case of an incomplete injury, some function remains on one or both sides of the body. The body and brain can still communicate along certain pathways.
Understanding a Lumbar Spinal Cord Injury
The lumbar spine, located below the thoracic section in the back, is the lowest major part of the spinal cord. The lumbar spine consists of five vertebrae (L1 to L5) and carries the most weight compared to any other sections of the spine. Any injuries caused to the lumbar nerves are likely to result in some loss of function in the hips and legs, with some of the most common causes being high impact traumas such as motor vehicle accidents, falls, trampoline accidents, violence, or gunshot wounds, sports injuries, and occasionally even surgical complications.
According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, the three types of lumbar spine injuries are Tetraplegia, Paraplegia, and Triplegia. Of these, the two most common types of spinal cord injuries are incomplete tetraplegia and paraplegia, with incomplete spinal cord injuries accounting for more than 65% of all SCIs.
Characteristic Behaviors of a Lumbar Spinal Cord Injury
The symptoms of a lumbar spine injury typically include extreme back pain or pressure in your neck, head, or back. You could also experience weakness, or paralysis in a certain part of your body, numbness, tingling, or loss of sensation in your hands, fingers, feet, or toes.
Some of the classic symptoms of a Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) include:
- walking problems
- loss of control of the bladder or bowels
- inability to move the arms or legs
- feeling of spreading numbness or tingling in the extremities
- pain, pressure, and stiffness in the back or neck area
- signs of shock
- weakness or decreased sensation in the arms and/or legs
- unusual lumps along the spine
- difficulty in breathing
Lumbar SCI Recovery and Prognosis
Lumbar spinal cord injuries can be critical since the lumbar vertebrae in the lumbar spine contain the spinal cord tissue and the nerves that connect the brain to the legs. This means that any kind of damage to the lumbar spinal cord is likely to affect your motor control and sensation in the lower body, impacting the hips, the groin area, and perhaps even the lower abdominal muscles and thigh flexion. But at the same time, they are treatable and can be well managed with the right amount of medical attention and therapy.
The primary treatment usually includes treating the nerve root pain with the help of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and epidural injections in the lumbar and cervical spine. Many therapists also recommend exercise patterns, along with one or more of the following:
- Stem Cell Therapy is a regenerative medical treatment that uses stem cells that are characterized by self-renewal and their ability to become any cell in an organism. These stem cells can potentially provide trophic support to the injured spinal cord microenvironment by modulating the inflammatory response, increasing vascularization and suppressing cystic change.
- Occupational therapy facilitates regaining independence by teaching you adaptive techniques for activities of daily living, community re-entry, and other tasks that you may like to engage in such as housework, caring for others, work/school etc.
- Physical therapy can help you improve mobility, strength, and flexibility through targeted exercises.
- Orthotics are wearable devices that can enable musculoskeletal alignment.
- Surgery may be recommended to decompress the spinal cord, stabilize the spinal column, manually lengthen spastic tendons and muscles, and minimize the hyperactivity of spastic muscles.
It can undoubtedly be challenging to suffer from a spinal cord injury. While different people may have different experiences, a personalized approach to rehabilitation is essential, where specific requirements can be met. The right treatment can help alleviate some of the difficulties, so it is highly recommended to consult specialists, professionals, and qualified therapists to determine the ideal treatment plan for the patient. Commitment to therapy programs and supportive counseling sessions are equally important for efficient recovery.