Category: Spinal Cord Injury | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: June 20, 2017
Contusions and compression are the two most common types of injuries to the spinal cord, but that’s likely because those two descriptions are umbrella terms that describe a wide variety of injuries. So today, we’re going to explain why types of injuries are classified as spinal contusions and compressions, and we’ll explain how each injury is treated.
The Difference Between Contusions and Spinal Compression
First, let’s explain what each of these terms mean. A spinal contusion of the spinal cord occurs when the cord is bruised through trauma, which can lead to inflammation and bleeding from blood vessels near the injury site. Spinal compression occurs when pressure is exerted onto the spinal cord by a nearby source, like a bone or blood from a nearby hematoma. This pressure can inhibit the spinal cord from performing its normal functions. If either a contusion or compression is serious enough, it can permanently damage the neural pathways along the spinal cord.
Because both injuries can cause pain and permanent damage, it is best to have a spinal specialist examine the injury site if you suspect you are suffering from a spinal cord contusion or compression.
Spinal Cord Contusion & Compression Symptoms
Although you may not know the exact nature of your injury, it’s relatively easy to summarize that you are likely dealing with a contusion or spinal cord compression. A contusion is a form of bruise, and bruises require acute trauma and it’s unlikely that you are going to suffer spinal trauma without realizing it. So if you are struck in the back by a hockey puck, you fall off a horse or your slip off a ladder and land on your back, odds are you’ll know that you’re suffering from a contusion. Symptoms include acute pain, pain with movement, decreased range of motion, inhibited gait and swelling.
Spinal cord compression is a little bit harder to identify because oftentimes the source of injury is much more mundane than with a spinal cord contusion. For example, you can pinch a spinal nerve if you bend over to pick up a heavy box, during a sneeze or if you twist awkwardly while playing sports. Other times compression can occur due to disc degeneration over the years, so there is no “moment of injury,” so to speak. Symptoms of a spinal cord compression injury are similar to a contusion injury, although it is more likely to involve shooting pain, numbness or a tingling sensation, and pain that makes it difficult to walk.
Treating either condition depends on the circumstances through which they developed. Acute trauma injuries are often best treated with the assistance of a medical professional, while mild compression cases may get better with rest, exercise and physical therapy. It is up to you whether or not you have your condition diagnosed by a professional, but there are warning signs with either condition that suggest you should visit a doctor. If your pain doesn’t resolve, if it gets progressively worse, if it inhibits your stride, if you are losing sensation in any of your extremities or if you are experiencing bladder dysfunction, visit a doctor right away.