Spinal cord injury medicine is a branch of medicine that treats damage to the spinal cord from an injury or a nontraumatic myelopathy, which is any disorder that affects the spinal area. The spinal cord is a section of nerve tissue protected by the vertebrae (spinal bones). Trauma to the spinal cord, typically caused by compression or bent vertebrae, prevents the body and brain from communicating. This can result in pain, loss of sensation, and impaired physical function and movement. Acute spinal cord injuries (SCIs) are a leading cause of permanent disability. Spinal cord injuries may develop from accidents or myelopathies, disorders that provoke spinal compression. Traumatic incidents such as falls, sports injuries, vehicle accidents, and bullet or stab wounds can cause an acute spinal injury.
Spinal cord injury medicine seeks to stabilize the spine and to alleviate the symptoms of spine damage. Practitioners of spinal cord injury medicine are called spinal cord injury specialists. Spinal cord injury medicine is an interdisciplinary field, meaning physicians of various specialties may be trained to treat spinal cord injuries.
Damage to the spinal cord may initially be diagnosed through X-ray, MRI, or CT scans. Patients can also undergo spinal exams to evaluate their sensory ability and strength. Injuries to the spinal cord can be complete (no feeling or sensation) or incomplete (some feeling or sensation remains). Conditions spinal cord injury medicine specialists may treat include:
Treatment for spinal cord injuries often involves surgery, either directly after an injury occurs or at a later date. Surgery for spine injuries is intended to ease spinal compression and stabilize the spine. Surgical procedures can involve shifting vertebrae, removing bone, or altering spinal placement with implantable devices. Patients with significant spinal trauma may require urgent surgical intervention.
Surgical treatments can be complemented by rehabilitative physical therapy to improve mobility. Spinal cord injury specialists also treat complications arising from a spinal injury, such as respiratory or bladder conditions. Some patients with spinal cord injuries may require lifelong treatment. Spinal cord injury specialists aim to help these patients successfully adjust and to lead an improved quality of life. An emerging treatment for spinal cord injuries is neural prosthetics, which replicate patients' lost nerve function. Neural prostheses may be used as artificial body parts or assistive devices that patients may cognitively control. Other assistive devices include wheelchairs and scooters.
Spinal cord injury specialists may collaborate with physical therapists, radiologists, neurologists, urologists, and orthopedists.