The spinal cord is the bundle of nerves that comes off of the brain stem, runs down through the vertebral column, and branches out to innervate the entire body. A spinal cord injury means that nerve impulses below that point will no longer be sent. This includes motor and sensory impulses. Injuries to the spinal cord could be complete, in which the spinal cord is completely severed or damaged all the way through the cord. They could also be incomplete in which only a portion of the cord is damaged, such as anterior cord syndrome, central cord syndrome, and brown-sequard syndrome.
Spinal cord injuries are most commonly caused by trauma like a motor vehicle collision or fall, but can also be caused by penetrating trauma like stabbings or gunshot wounds that penetrate the spinal column.
Preserve and maintain optimal function, minimize complications.
Maintain full spinal precautions until cleared by a neurosurgeon. This involves a c-collar to immobilize the neck, keeping the HOB flat, and using a strict log-roll technique for turning. Any twist or bend of the spine could cause further damage to the spinal cord.
Halo brace is used to immobilize the cervical spine with unstable vertebral fractures. Four pins are inserted into the skull – pin care should be done twice daily to prevent infection at the pin sites. A wrench should be kept at bedside to remove the vest in the case that chest compressions are needed.
Patients may experience pain from the initial trauma as well as neuropathic pain due to the nerve injuries. Muscle relaxants like cyclobenzaprine and gabapentin can also help ease any muscle spasms or nerve pain.
PT and OT can help the patient to maintain whatever functional ability they have. ROM exercises help to prevent atrophy and contractures.
Neurogenic shock is a risk within the first 24-72 hours, autonomic dysreflexia is a risk any time. Both show warm, flushed skin and an elevated temperature. Neurogenic shock shows hypotension and bradycardia, while autonomic dysreflexia shows hypertension and bradycardia. Find and treat cause of A.D. as soon as possible.
Immobility can lead to pneumonia, DVT/thrombophlebitis, and pressure ulcers. Monitor for signs and intervene to prevent them. Assess skin with every turn, monitoring for developing pressure ulcers (they can develop in as little as 2 hours).
Spinal cord injury patients often require many resources in the community and in their home for care, including wheelchairs, assistive devices, shower chairs, hospital beds, etc. The social worker can help to set these things up for the patient.
For more information, visit www.nrsng.com/cornell
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