Spine Injuries

What are spine injuries?

The spine comprises 33 individual bones called vertebrae stacked on each other. The vertebrae are connected by ligaments, muscles, cartilage, and intervertebral disks, which allow the spine to bend and flex. 

Spine injuries, also known as spinal cord injuries, are any damage that occurs to the bones, ligaments, nerves, or muscles of the spine. As the body's core pillar, the spine is responsible for passing information between the brain and the rest of the body. 

spine injuries
Spine injuries can be categorised into complete spinal cord injuries and incomplete spinal cord injuries.

There are two main types of spine injuries, these are:

  • Complete spinal cord injury: characterised by paralysis on both sides of the body and may affect all four limbs (quadriplegia or tetraplegia) or the lower half of the body (paraplegia). 
  • Incomplete spinal cord injury: characterised by reduced function on one or both sides of the body. 

What causes spine injuries? 

Spine injuries are caused by damage to any part of the spinal cord, such as the vertebrae, ligaments, nerves, or disks. The following factors can cause these injuries: 

  • Traumatic injuries: sudden or traumatic blows to the spine from vehicular accidents, falls, or sports injuries can damage the spinal cord. 
  • Non-traumatic injuries: medical conditions or degenerative diseases can also cause spinal cord injuries. These conditions include arthritis, tumours, infections, herniated or slipped discs, spinal stenosis, or osteoporosis, which can damage the spinal cord.
weak arms spine injuries
Spine injuries can cause muscle weakness in your extremities.

What are the symptoms of spine injuries? 

The symptoms of a spinal cord injury vary depending on the type of injury, the force of the impact, and the individual's age and health. 

Some common symptoms include: 

  • Pain in the neck, back, or other areas of the spine 
  • Loss of or reduced sensation in the chest, arms, or legs
  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulty walking or moving 
  • Headaches, dizziness, or nausea 
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control 

See a doctor immediately if you are experiencing any of the symptoms stated above. Some spinal conditions and injuries require urgent (same-day) or emergency care for rapid diagnosis and treatment.

Are spine injuries painful?

Yes. Spine injuries are usually accompanied by pain at the site of injury. Other symptoms such as muscle weakness, loss or reduced function of extremities, and loss of bowel control may accompany pain after a spinal cord injury.

Who is at risk of spine injuries in Singapore? 

Anyone can experience a spine injury, but several factors may increase an individual’s risk. These factors are: 

  • Sports: individuals who participate in high-risk activities such as contact sports, diving, horseback riding, and skiing have a high risk of spine injuries
  • Medical conditions: conditions such as osteoporosis, cancer, arthritis, and slipped discs increase an individual’s risk of spinal cord injuries. 
  • Age: individuals between the ages of 16 and 30 and those older than 65 are at an increased risk of spinal cord injuries.
  • Gender: males are more prone to spine injuries than females.

How is spine injury diagnosed? 

A spine injury is diagnosed using the following tests: 

  • Physical examination: your neurologist will assess your neurological function, range of motion, and reflexes. 
  • Imaging tests: imaging tests such as x-rays, computed tomography scans (CT-scan), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) help visualise the spine's structure and identify the severity and location of your injuries. 
  • Electromyography (EMG) or nerve conduction study (NCS): an NCS and EMG measure the strength of electrical activity in your muscles and nerves and identify how well your body responds to these signals. These tests will help diagnose nerve-related issues. 
  • Diagnostic injections: diagnostic injections may be recommended for some patients to pinpoint the source of their back pain.
NCS spine injuries
A nerve conduction study identifies how strong and fast the electrical signals are in your nerves.

What are the treatment options for spine injuries in Singapore?

There is currently no complete cure for spinal cord injuries. If you are diagnosed with spine injuries, treatment options are typically to prevent further injury or worsening of your symptoms. Treatment options include:

  • Medication: pain relievers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) will be prescribed to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. 
  • Injections: epidural injections may be given to help reduce inflammation and pain. 
  • Immobilisation: certain spine injuries may require realignment or stabilisation. This is typically achieved using braces or neck collars.
  • Physiotherapy: physiotherapy involves gentle and therapeutic exercises to regain strength, mobility, and range of motion. 
  • Surgery: severe injuries, such as fractures or spinal cord compression, may require surgical intervention to stabilise the spine or decompress the spinal cord.

Frequently asked questions  

Can spine injuries be cured without surgery? 

In some cases, yes. Mild spine injuries can often heal independently with rest, physical therapy, and pain medication. In cases where pain persists despite undergoing treatment, surgery may be required.

How do you stop spine injuries when it starts? 

At the first sign of injury, like pain or spasms, stop your activities and begin RICE therapy - rest, ice, compression, and elevation. See a doctor to diagnose and adequately treat the injury before it worsens.

What exercises should you avoid when you have spine injuries? 

It is recommended that you avoid any exercise that puts stress on the spine until the injury has healed. This includes activities such as sit-ups, crunches, and heavy lifting.

Is spine injury serious? 

The seriousness of a spine injury depends on the severity of the damage and the individual's overall health. Some spine injuries can be quite severe and can result in permanent disability. In contrast, other spine injuries are not severe and can heal with proper treatment. 

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Copyright © 2023 Chou Neuroscience Clinic. All Rights Reserved