Spinal Cord Injury: An analysis of Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

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If you even slightly suspect you have a potential spinal injury this article will point you in the correct direction for what you really must do.

For runners, there is a multitude of injuries that can slow up your workouts or end them entirely. Many of the injuries are of the foot, ankle and knee varieties,  often runners don’t worry or even think about spinal cord injuries.  In the mindset of many runners, spinal cord injuries are in the realm of football, lacrosse or other contact sports. Don’t fall trap into the mindset that contact sports injuries and running injuries are mutually exclusive.

If you run, every part of your body is fair game for an injury. That is why it is imperative for runners and all athletes to familiarize themselves with the key components of the body that allow us to be active.

So even though you don’t expect be playing linebacker during your next morning run, pay attention to any information you can obtain about your spinal cord. It is time to exercise the mind along with the body. The goal of this article is not to scare the reader but educate him or her about possible injuries to the spinal cord. Hopefully, this is knowledge you will store away and not need to act on it.

The spinal cord is an extremely important tissue in the body. The spinal cord along with the brain form the central nervous system. The formation of the brain and the spinal cord allow for the transfer of messages to be sent throughout the body. The spinal cord is an accumulation of nerves that travel from the brain all the way down our spine. These nerves are what help us to function and operate our functions.

As you are likely aware, there can be catastrophic issues whenever there is the slightest damage to the spinal cord and/or the central nervous system.

The spinal canal is broken into sections called vertebrae and each of the vertebrae is divided from the neck down to the tailbone. The anatomy of the spinal canal is:

  • 7 neck, or also called the cervical, vertebrae
  • 12 chest, or also called thoracic, vertebrae
  • 5 lower back, or also known as the lumbar, vertebrae

 

SpinalColumnCredit Source: Credit Source: The different regions of the Spinal column
together there are 33 interlocking bones (vertebrates) creating the spine. Separating the bones and creating the necessary cushion to prevent pain is the discs were are soft and compressible. Vertebrae in the spine are also a formed three curves to provide more absorption during movements and jolts to the body.
The spine is divided up into five different segments – starting from the top –
cervical (neck — 7 cervical vertebrae), leads to thoracic (upper and middle back –12 thoracic vertebrae), then the lumbar (lower back –5 lumbar vertebrae), going to the sacrum (pelvis — 5 sacral vertebrae), and finally the coccyx (tailbone — 4 coccygeal vertebrae). The first letters of these segments help medical professionals differentiate the vertebrae.
Numbered from top to bottom, this is when you hear a doctor refer to C2 (second vertebrae in the cervical section) or the T4 (fourth in the thoracic).
The spinal cord is covered by the spinal canal and the spinal canal is the bone or the shelling that protects the spinal cord.
The vertebrae in the lumbar region have larger surface areas and depth than those of the other spinal cord area since the L supports the weight of the head and upper extremities.

Another major function of the spinal cord is that the spinal cords help to supports some of the function of the organs, including the heart, lungs, bladder and bowels. This is extremely important as the spinal cord can control your heart rate and heart beat along with controlling our breathing (This will be explained in further detail later on in the article).

Generally speaking, an injury at a higher point of the spinal cord (in the C or cervical section) will result in more severe injuries.

What is Spinal Cord Injury? 

Any type of spinal cord injury is an extremely dangerous injury someone can sustain. Unlike other parts of the body, the spinal cord cannot repair itself. This is what makes sustaining a spinal cord injury that more devastating. Another factor that makes spinal cord injury so dangerous and something that can completely change the lives of those who have sustained a spinal cord injury is the relationship between the spine and the brain.

This is called the central nervous system and this is responsible for messages being sent and received throughout the body. Tracts in the spinal cord are what sends these message throughout the body and allow for you to move the body and function. In other terms, it is the source of your motor skills.  When the spinal cord is injured, the motor skills are affected. In some cases, the ability to move at all is completely taken away. The severity of a spinal injury is the major factor in determining if a person will be able to use their motor skills.

Medical research indicates that men (usually young and white) are those who encounter the most spinal cord injury cases. The average age of spinal cord injury victims is 42. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, each year there are about 12,000 new cases of spinal cord injuries. All together there are over 250,000 Americans living with the effects of an injury to the spinal cord.

Symptoms

Spinal Cord Injury is not an injury that doctors can easily find. However, there are some early signs that can detect if you have sustained a spinal cord injury. Doctors providing medical attention to a patient in regards to a possible spinal cord injury is most often following a traumatic event where the person was hit or jarred significantly. Often a medical provider will take a very conservative approach with a spinal cord injury patient and assume the worst possible scenario is taking place. Here are some symptoms of a spinal cord injury:

Spinal Cord Injury can fall into two categories:

  • Complete –  This means the inability to use any of your motor skills. Your motor function is completely inert and you cannot move. Complete injuries to the spinal cord can happen at any level.
  • Incomplete – This means that some of your sensory functions are incomplete and that you cannot use them properly. However, the ability to completely move is not a symptom. Incomplete injuries can also occur at any level of the spinal cord.

This can also be known as paralysis. Paralysis can either be:

  • Tetraplegia or sometimes called quadriplegic which is the inability to move any part of the body. The arms, hands, legs and trunk.
  • Paraplegia is the inability to move the legs, trunks and lower part of the body.
  • Triplegia is the loss of movement in three areas  – one arm and both legs.

The symptoms of Spinal Cord Injury are:

  • Complete or incomplete sensation in your muscles
  • Weakness of the muscles
  • Involuntary bowel movement and loss of bladder control
  • Problems with digestion
  • Overall sexual dysfunction  – erectile dysfunction (for men)
  • Muscle spasms
  • Change in heart rate and blood pressure
  • Change in body posture
  • Pain radiating into the extremities

Spinal Shock – a person who encounters an injury or trauma to the spinal cord may deal with the spinal shock. The blow to the spinal cord can shock the muscles to the point where they could lose their movement and cause the person to also lose feeling and reflexes.  This shock can last hours or days until the symptoms of spinal shock dissipate.

Extreme symptoms of a spinal cord injury involve: 

  • Hard to breathe
  • Extreme back and neck pain
  • shock
  • inability to communicate
  • Paralysis

If you have witnessed someone in a severe accident it is important that you:

For many bystanders, who have witnessed a severe accident, they usually move the person around to see if they are okay. But it is important that if you see someone who has suffered a spinal injury that you:

  • Do not move or shift them. As you can do more harm to these individuals than good with even the slightest movement.
  • Seek immediate medical help for the person
  • Try your best to keep the person still
  • Place strong form towel by each side of the neck

Causes

The spinal cord is a very important tissue in the body. However, it is one of the most fragile parts of our body. Any time athletes place themselves in a position to be hit or jolted, there is always the slight probability of an injury to the spinal cord.

The spine can be injured in a plethora of different ways and it is important to know the causes in order to better protect yourself against the many dangers out there. Some of the main causes for spinal cord injury involve, but limited to these, are listed below:

Myelopathy (acute spinal cord injury)

Back Pain Red

Falling from high heights

Falls from high heights are perhaps some of the most prevalent causes of spinal cord injury. Despite the fact that the spinal cord is surrounded by the spinal canal (the bones) the spine is a very fragile part of the human body. When a person falls from a height, it is not just their body weight, but the forces of gravity that place added pressure on a part of the body unable to deal with it.

Being the victim of a violent attack examples being  

Vicious and violent attacks to the back can be extremely devastating for the spine. Because the spine is so vulnerable, a strong enough attack can completely leave an individual paralyzed. Some well known violent attacks that leave many people paralyzed or the individual suffering from severe pain are:

  • getting shot in the back
  • getting stabbed in the back
  • getting hit in the back with a blunt object
  • impact of being thrown to the ground

Sport Injuries

Sports injuries are very prevalent. When engaging in a sport that is physically engaging the chance of receiving an injury are quite high. Not all sports are dangerous, however, there are some sports that can cause serious harm to the spine. Listed below are a few example:

  • football
  • rugby
  • soccer
  • skateboarding
  • diving
  • boxing
  • mixed martial arts
  • lacrosse
  • gymnastics
  • trampoline
  • weight lifting and power lifting

Diving for example is a sport that has a relationship to spinal cord injuries. Next, to walking and camping, swimming and diving is one of the most popular recreational activities for children. Some reports list the number of young people impacted by spinal cord injuries as a result of diving is as high 7,000 per year. Since an accident of this nature, where paralysis is possibly involved, occurs within water, it can be a lethal injury. Private swimming pools (90%) is the most common place for a diving injury.

You should never dive into water that is less than 10 feet deep and when it doubt, lead into the water with your feet and not your upper torso.

There are a number of unfortunate and famous cases of athletes dealing with traumatic spinal cord injuries. As to be expected most of the infamous spinal cord injuries took place on the football field.

During a 1978 preseason game against the Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley had a violent collision with Jack Tatum, of Oakland. That hit left Stingley motionless on the playing field and ultimately led him to a life as a quadriplegic.  Stingley gained fame from his fortitude and activity following the injury. He passed away in 2007 at the age of 55 due to pneumonia which was exacerbated by his quadriplegia.

Chucky Mullins, formerly of the University of Mississippi, is another football player injured on the field that became a quadriplegic.  Mullins was injured in 1989 (after he led with his head on a tackle) that died less than two years later after dealing with blood clots, a major problem for those with spinal cord trauma.

Mike Utley, Dennis Byrd and Marc Buoniconti are other football players who gained national attention for spinal cord injuries on the football field that resulted in their paralysis.

A recent example of the medical advancements regarding spinal cord injuries is former Rutgers University football player Eric LeGrand. During a 2010 game against Army, LeGrand was involved with a collision that traumatized his spinal cord.  Even though he is confided to a wheel chair, LeGrand, through extensive physical therapy can breathe on his own and reports some feeling and movements in his upper body .

Tumors – Are abnormal growths in any part of the body that serves no function. For those suffering from paralysis, any added weight to the body and growths that impact blood flow are very much concerning.

Infection

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Infections are not usually a primary reason for spinal cord injury, however, there are some infections that do affect the spinal cord and create myelopathy. It is important to know this and how it can relate to the spinal cord injury you may be feeling. Listed below are some viruses that can cause spinal cord injury:

  • HIV – is well known for being a virus that attacks the immune system. It is considered an opportunistic virus but what is not well known is that it can also attack the nervous system and thus can be a leading factor for some people to develop spinal cord injury. Thankfully, medical advancements over the past few decades have helped curtail the greater onset of HIV.
  • Polio – is not as prevalent in developed countries as it is in undeveloped countries. Polio attacks the nervous system and can lead to paralysis. However, this is a rare incident. There continues to be more stories of people in the United States who are opposed to vaccination programs and have become exposed to polio. The effects of polio are what caused President Franklin Roosevelt’s paralysis.
  • Syphilis – this is a sexually transmitted and contagious disease that invades the spinal cord and nervous system. During the World War II era, syphilis was considered a major health concern. While no longer the same concern because of the increase in sexual education, there are still plenty of syphilis cases in the United States. In 2014, the Center for Disease control listed just under 20,000 new cases.
  • Herpes – there are a number of strains of the herpes virus that can affect the spinal cord. Those within the herpes group include: herpes simplex virus, varcella zoster (chickenpox) and Epstein-Barr virus.
  • Tuberculosis – like the other disease and infection listed. Tuberculosis can have devastating effects on the neurological system. Like polio, tuberculosis isn’t that prevalent in developed countries. Still, from 2014 too 2015, there was an 1.6% increase of cases in the United States.
  • Staphylococcus abscess – is a bacterial abscess that is one of the most frequent causes of spinal cord abscess. This is an especially difficult infection to cure, as antibiotics, which usually are good enough to rid the body of abscesses and infection, requires that neurosurgeon removes the abscess. An abscess on the spinal cord forms (which is rare) after an injury to the area becomes infected and the body delivers white blood cells. The white blood cells can then pool up and form puss. The buildup of puss and fluid on the spinal cord becomes a very significant issue that can ultimately lead to irreversible damage.
  • Fungal Infection – this is a rare condition but a condition that is plausible. There is a specific kind of fungi that called aspergillum that can invade the spinal epidural space. Once it invades the spinal canal it can lead to a growth known as granulomas that have the potential to comes the spinal canal and thus damage the spinal cord.
    Fungal meningitis occurs when blood containing fungus reaches and settles into the spinal cord. This is a problem for those who are dealing with weakened immune systems.
  • Parasitic Infection – In many undeveloped countries parasitic infection are prevalent and the parasite usually tapeworms can invade the final cords and the cause great harm to the spine.
  • West Nile Virus – a virus carried by mosquitoes and gaining more recognition in the media. It is believed that 5% of those inflected by the mosquito bite will have neurological issues. Make sure to do your best when running to cover up your body as much as possible to protect against mosquitoes. Also, avoid running in areas where there is standing water – that is where mosquitoes breed and lay their eggs.

Vehicular Accidents

  • Motorcycle accidents which are the most prevalent when it involves vehicular accidents.
  • Car accidents are very common. The impact of cars can cause great injury to the people involved. One research report states that since 2010, 38% of all spinal cord injuries were a result of car accidents. Approximately there are 17,000 spinal cord injuries each year in the United States. Certainly greater use of seat belts in cars has helped us avoid more car accident injuries. Researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia report that seat belts not strapped properly can lead to risks of spinal cord injuries for children between the ages of 4 to 8. The results of these injuries can take some time to become apparent. The researchers recommend parents regularly monitor the seat belts their children wear and should keep them in compliance to both their weight and age.
  • Jet ski accidents can cause serious accidents to the neck and spinal cord because of their high rate of speed. Also, people feel the fun and recreation use of jet skis might make them safer than they truly are for the novice rider. Since there are no restraints like seat belts, many of the spinal cord injuries from jet skis result from someone being thrown off their vehicle and colliding with the water or another person at a very high rate of speed.

Alcohol 

The use of alcohol, after a spinal cord injury, can lead to the person experiencing the more negative effect. Research has shown and proven the many negative side effects of drinking after spinal cord injury. A very important fact to know is that alcohol is considered a drug that affects the spinal cord and the brain. Excessive alcohol usage for someone with a serious injury can lead to increased depression.

Unhealthy foods

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Avoid unhealthy Junk Foods

The effects of unhealthy foods are extremely detrimental to the health of individuals. Unhealthy foods lead to a plethora of negative effects on the body and the mind. Processed food, sugary,  fast food, meat, and dairy are well known by the World Health Organization to be very dangerous to the body. These are some of the leading factors for:

The most dangerous effect of unhealthy food on the body, and there are many, is that consuming junk food can lead to negative effects in the brain.  Research experiment with lab mouse had shown that the mice that consumed junk food on a daily basis instead of healthy food had a reduction in memory and the transfer would interfere with the signal being sent to the brain. Just think about the how the body reacts and can deteriorate in a number of ways because of poor food choices. A weakened body will always have a harder time responding to any injury or trauma.

For runners, poor food choices can lessen workouts and make it difficult to reach and then sustain goals.

Disease

There is some disease that people can develop that can lead to the development of spinal cord injury. Some birth defects such as Spina Bifida include a disruption of the spine and central nervous system. The list below gives a few examples that many Americans suffer with. This list though is limited, and not all the disease that can affect the spinal cord are listed. However, the examples listed below are the ones that affect most Americans the most and the diseases that many Americans are more prone to develop:

  • Arthritis – an inflammation of the joints that causes stiffness and pain.
  • Osteoarthritis – a disease that impacts the joints and can lead to the lost of cartilage and bone mass.
  • Inflammation

The cause listed above all can have some extremely negative effects on the spine, due to them disrupting or damaging the nerve fibers of the spine. Once the spine nerves have been damaged this can cause leads to the body becoming immobile.

Risk Factors

The risk factors involved with a spinal cord injury include:

  • Involuntary bowel movements
  • muscle spasm
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Extreme pain
  • shock
  • Depression (as a side effect of paralysis or involuntary bowel movements and urinary incontinence)

Diagnosis

After receiving a spinal injury most individuals are taken to the emergency room immediately, in some cases, surgery will happen right at the incident of the accident because of the serious problems spinal injury can have cause later on in life. For those who have received a spinal cord injury and placed in the emergency room, the doctors will check for the severity of the spinal injury by using one of these three machines:

CT scan
Credit Source: CT images of spondylolisthesis By James Heilman, MD – Own work

 

  • X-rays: The medical personnel will usually take these when an individual who comes in with a spinal cord injury to search for the area where the spine has been fractured or broken. X-rays can also find tumors and spine degenerative bones.
  • CT scans: Is able to discover and provide better information about the details of the severity of the spine.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans: This method includes the use of magnets fits and radio waves to produce a computer generated image. This is a preferred method by many individuals as the other two options involve some level of radiation.

For those who suffer from a spinal cord injury, they will also be expected to take a neurological exam. This is because the spine and the brain work together and are linked.

Treatment

There is, unfortunately, no cure or treatment for spinal cord injury. However, researchers are working hard to discover methods that will help to promote the nerves cell regeneration. The most advantageous way to combat spinal cord injury is primarily in the prevention.  For those who suffer from spinal cord injuries, there is much medical equipment that is out there to help assist them. Many of this medical equipment are new technologies. These types of types of equipment include:

Technology 

  • The Modern wheelchair – This wheelchair has been created for the modern age and includes many accessories to it for the wielder of the wheelchair. Wheelchairs for spinal cord injury victims (manual or powered) are now created and improved by engineers who are using science and ergonomics to improve the person’s quality of life. The wheelchair as a totally utilitarian piece of machinery is no longer the case.  Today’s electric wheelchairs can be used to better help the person who suffers from a spinal cord injury to better get around. These wheelchairs are able to traverse tough terrains along with being able to go upstairs. A study conducted in 2014 by Turkish researchers concluded that 55% of spinal cord injury patients use inappropriate wheelchairs for their condition. The researchers recommended that medical professionals should prescribe personally designed wheelchairs.

  • Electrical Stimulation devices – These devices are incredibly sophisticated and continue to improve with technological advancements. They send electric stimulation to certain parts of the body to produce movement. This is is usually throughout the arm or the hands and fingers. They are sometimes called Functional Electric Simulations (FES) and they can help to give people the ability to move their arms and legs. For some, it gives them the ability to stand and walk. In other cases, it can help people reach and grab and hold items.
    Stimulation devices are also used to treat people with chronic pain.  The two common types of nerve stimulation include spinal cord stimulation (SCS) and peripheral nerve stimulation (PNS). SCS can be used for those suffering from lower back pain as well.  The research is split as to how effective this treatment is for spinal cord victims but it is gaining converts in the medical community as more cases of SCS creating positive results are being shared worldwide.
  • Computer Adaptions- these can range from small personal computers that are specifically created for people with limited movement. This computer also has voice interaction.
  • Robotic Gait training –  which helps people who are retraining to walk again. Another area of treatment that continues to improve with added research.  This area now includes the encouraging use of wearable robotics. Exoskeleton apparatuses can potentially provide assistance of movement for spinal cord injury victims with different levels of paralysis. Manufactures of wearable robotics include Ekso, ReWalk, Indego, HAL and Rex.

Rehabilitation 

The Rehabilitation team you will be surrounded by will include:

  • Dietician
  • Physical therapist
  • Recreation therapist
  • Rehabilitation Nurse
  • Rehabilitation Psychologist

These people will help you in the early stages of the spinal injury. They inform individuals of ways to prevent further complications from the spinal cord injury and help to inform the individual of ways of rebuilding their lives again. Spinal cord injury can change the lives of those who have been injured, not only physically but mentally. For many who suffer from a spinal cord injury, they might be given a therapist. A therapist is often great choices in overcoming the depression that follows after receiving a spinal cord injury.

During this process as well you will learn new skills, pertaining to technology and you will be encouraged to learn new skills along with maintaining our old hobbies.

Medication

There is a specific kind of medicine that helps to alleviate the pain that is associated with spinal cord injury. However, it is important to know that the alleviation of pain is minimal. It is only given to ease the pain for a temporary amount of time. This is by no means a cure to heal spinal cord injury.

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Another important fact to know is that this medicine is given within the first 8 hours of receiving the injury. The medicine that most people who suffer from a spinal cord injury is prescribed is called methylprednisolone. This is one of the treatment options that are there but they offer very little comfort. The reason being that methylprednisolone is a is a corticosteroid hormone used to treat a variety of issues – not solely for the spinal cord.

Doctors prescribe methylprednisolone to treat arthritis, allergey reactions of the severe type, cancer, and diseases that impact internal organs. The drug helps these aforementioned issues by reducing swelling and pain. However, in order to accomplish this, methylprednisolone reduced the body’s immune reactions. So someone taking the drug could be susceptible to infections and must stay away from other people who might be sick.

Researchers have looked at how well high doses of methylprednisolone might work for someone with a spinal cord injury. One report found that data is inconclusive if the drug (administered with a high dose) can help treat a spinal cord victim – even if it is taken within eight hours of the initial moment of trauma.

There is another experimental drug that some are looking to assist with helping spinal cord victims. The compound of the compound, 4-aminopyridine-3-methyl hydroxide has shown some limited success (still a long shot, but nonetheless encouraging) by inhibiting the short circuiting of spinal cord fibers that were severely injured.

Braces and Medical Equipment 

Braces are another option that is out there to help individuals who suffer from spinal cord injury. The neck brace is meant to help stabilize the neck and the spine.

There are two types of braces used for spinal injuries – soft and hard braces. The soft brace is made of compacted foam and a Velcro collar. This might be the type of brace you see someone where following an injury or car accident where whiplash occurred. The patient or family member can help administer the use of a soft brace.

The hard brace is used following a more significant injury. This is worn 24 hours a day and is meant to provide the most stability for something like a fracture of a vertebrae.


soft brace                                                                              hard brace

There are Halo Rings used in hospital beds and Halo Vests which provide for more mobility. Any apparatus with a halo is intended to stabilize the cervical spine region.

A special kind of bed can also be used to help those who suffer from spinal cord injuries. Many beds used by spinal cord victims use latex mattresses for both comfort and temperature regulation. There  is research that states sleeping becomes harder for spinal cord victims as they age.

Surgery 

Surgery can sometimes be used to help remove certain items:

MRI Lumber

Sometimes this surgery is used to help stabilize a spine but this does not help to cure the spinal injury. This surgery will require extensive rest and rehabilitation. And even with that, the person who suffers from a spinal injury will not completely heal. Reason being that surgery can possibly impact the covering of the spinal cord (the dura) or other nerves associated with the central nervous system.

Nerve fibers (that can become exposed during surgery) are vital to body movements since they branch off and venture through the openings in the vertebrae.

Experimental Surgery

Scientists are in the process of trying to find was to stop cellular death and ways to promote cell growth. For those who are looking for an alternative treatment, they can ask their doctors if there are any experimental procedures they can undergo. However, these are always very dangerous and tricky procedure with no guarantee that the procedure will leave you okay.  In some cases, the pain and suffering you already feel can be worst after the operation. It is very important to keep this in mind.

There are many doctors and researchers in the United States who advocate for the use of stem cells to help rehabilitate spinal cord victims. There are still many groups and politicians who are opposed to the use of stem cells so work in this area is still in the experimental phase. Besides limited places that offer stem cell therapy, a patient must be administered the stem cells after a very short window following their traumatic accident, thus limiting the amount of data as to its true indicator of success.

The University of Southern California’s Kerk School of Medicine is one of the leading research institutions that focuses on stem cell usage for spinal cord injury victims.

Aquatic Therapy 

Spinal cord injury can be a very slow and depressing process. There are ways to help to rehabilitate the person, however, these methods may prove to be very slow processes.  However, Aquatic Therapy is proving to be a hopeful panacea for spinal cord injury. Research has shown that aquatic therapy speeds up the recovery time in patients. Buoyancy can relieve the load on sensitive bones and joints. There are many benefits of swimming and for those who undergo aquatic therapy:

  • Less stress on your back and muscle
  • The water acts as a great resistance so you can tone the muscles
  • Swimming has been shown to boost the emotional levels in a positive way. Why is this important you might ask? It is important because, depression leads to the immune system becoming weaker and making the body overall, weaker.

There is no cure to completely heal the spinal cord injury but there are many ways that you can alleviate the pain and still live a life that is still productive. The examples all above are hopeful, and with continued research spinal cord injury will be an ailment of the past.

Prevention

The best way to keep from getting spinal cord injury is found in prevention. There are a plethora of ways in which you can prevent spinal cord injury. This may involve:

1. Proper Diet 

The benefits of eating right and in taking the correct nutrients cannot be overlooked. A proper diet helps a runner keep running and maintaining a positive and active lifestyle. The benefits of eating healthy are numerous. Inflammation, and it has been proven, increases when you eat unhealthy foods. These “junk foods” have all been documented to have severe and adverse effects on the body and the mind.  This is especially important in the case of a spinal cord injury because the spinal cord directly influences the brain.

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The benefits of eating healthy are:

  • Better vitality
  • Quicker healing time
  • Ability to maintain a regular running or workout routine
  • Clearer skin
  • Fresh breath (bad breath is a result of an unhealthy eating)
  • Age slower
  • Better sleep patterns
  • Less stress (Explained earlier in the article. Unhealthy food leads to depression)
  • Fewer cravings (Unhealthy foods are very addictive. Even when you are full the addiction keeps pulling you back to eat.)

Foods to eat for a strong spine and back:

  • Foods packed with Calcium – has the benefits of keeping the spine strong
  • Fish
  • Dark Greens
  • Sea vegetables
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Whole grains and brown rice
  • Cocoa and Dark Chocolate
  • Nuts like walnuts and almonds.
  • Garlic has great anti-inflammatory agents
  • Red Wine (Alcohol and Wine are not the same things. Wine should be drunken sparingly though)
  • Tea (especially green tea)
  • Blueberries
  • Foods high in Magnesium (avocados, bananas, nuts)
  • Foods high in Vitamin D (milk, salmon, also spending time in the sun)

The foods listed above all have great benefits on maintaining the nervous system, which the spinal cord is attached to, and they also offer other great benefits. There is also a diet that has been thoroughly researched and has shown to have some signs of hope. This diet is known as the ketogenic diet.  Scientist and researcher conduct an experiment on lab mice and found that putting them on a ketogenic diet helped the lab mice to heal from spinal cord injuries. The ketogenic diet is a diet that consists of a high fats and low carbs.  In the end, the benefits of eating healthy have great effects on the body and the mind. Overall you will feel like a completely new individual if you change your diet.

If you are a runner and don’t abide by a healthy diet, you are limiting your physical and mental potential.

2. Exercise

The body is just a machine and it needs the right amount of nutrients to work efficiently. The best way to keep the body strong and to keep the bones, and in this case the spine strong is to exercise.

Normal range of motion is essential in stabilizing the spinal cord and helping to ward off injury. These exercises are all very effective in maintaining the strength of your spine and also to maintain a healthy posture:

Aerobic Exercise:

Aerobic Exercises have great benefits of strengthening the back and overall keeping the body in tip top performance. Listed below are a few example of some aerobic exercises you can do to strengthen your back and to also keep you in shape:

  • Jogging
  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Skipping rope
  • Walking
  • Box jumps
  • Stationary bicycling or spinning
  • Basketball

Static training:

These are exercises where you have to hold a position for a certain amount of time.

  • Wall Sit
  • Horse stance
  • Hanging Chin up

3. Stretches

Stretching, along with a proper diet and exercising allows for another great benefit. These stretches are very efficient in maintaining the flexibility of the spine and can help to rid individuals who suffer from minor back pain. Perform some of these stretches for better flexibility and mobility of the back:

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  • cat stretch
  • bridge
  • hang from a pull-up bar stretches the spine

4. Meditation

What can meditation do, you might ask. Mediation, especially sitting in the lotus pose, does a great job of strengthening the lower back and properly aligning the spine. Practice in a meditative helps you have a better posture. A great benefit of meditation is that it helps you with your breathing. A serious symptom associated with spinal cord injury is the inability to breathe normally or easily.

5. Exercise ball:

Spinal cord injuries are very common for those who sit down for hours of a day. To better help your posture it is important that you have a medicine ball seat. The benefits of having a proper posture are greatly ignored. There are many negative side effects of sitting down.

Sitting down for hours on ends leads to the spine being compressed and this completely destroys your posture, it leads to heart problems, breathing, and other spinal problems. Sitting down on a medicine ball, for those who have to work while sitting down will offer a lot of benefits such as:

  • Correct your posture
  • Uplift you emotions
  • Give you better confidence
  • Reduces your stress

It is greatly ignored, how emotions and our health correlate with one another. If you feel negative then that affects your body. The body and mind are not a separate unity as we might think. Negative emotion raises certain chemicals in the body that do much more harm to us.

This is why for those who suffer from any form of ailment, it is recommended that they sub-stain from alcohol during the healing process. Many individuals drink alcohol to drown their sorrows. When individuals drink they try to become more relaxed and mellow. Some may become mellow but this feeling of relief is only momentary.

6. Proper athletic gear: 

For those runners who also include weight lifting into their workouts, make sure to wear a weight training belt to stabilize the mid section. This belt will also assist with posture.

For runners, make sure to wear sneakers that properly fit. This will help stabilize the spinal cord and also assist with warding off the lower back pain. And when running, do so in an upright position, not leaning forward and try not to overstride.

Look at other ways to improve your body. Try to use headphones when using your mobile phone. The headphones will prevent you from cramping the phone awkwardly between your ear and shoulder. This has long term negative impacts on your neck and spine. Also, don’t spend extended periods sitting at your desk (or commonly on an airplane as well). Make a it a priority every 15 to 30 minutes to get up, do basic static stretches and move around as much as possible. Think about making the spine and neck as strong and healthy as possible.

If you do a job with a lot of lifting and repetitive movements, try to build in time to rest or break up the repetition of movements.

False Positives

The spinal cord injury isn’t an injury that can be immediately seen if you go to a check up. This injury is something that doctors need to look for. Even if you talk about the pain you feel, it might just be thought of a muscle spasm. When this happens and if you have not received a proper diagnosis, the spinal cord injury can become much more severe and it will lead to a more serious injury.

Because spinal cord injuries aren’t something that can be diagnosed from a mere look it takes using an X-ray, CT scan or MRI. However, even with these, it is still possible that the machine might have missed the injury or one of the medical assistance misread the results.  It is important that you always seek a second opinion, as even doctors are able to make mistakes. However, this shouldn’t mean you should lose faith, but you are the one who is experiencing the pain. You must trust yourself if the doctors say there is nothing wrong.

Sum it up

Spinal cord injuries are very dangerous injuries and can have extremely devastating and lasting effects on the person. For many who have incurred a spinal cord injury their whole lives have changed as a result of it. There are no cures for spinal cord injury and the treatments that are available, only help alleviate the pain of the person minimally.

Prevention is the best option in this scenario. A healthy diet, daily exercise a proper posture can all have great effects on maintaining the health of your spinal cord. It is always important to be mindful of events you are engaging in especially if an injury is involved.  Although there is no definitive cure for spinal cord injury there is a host of treatments that are greatly improving in their fields and in the lives of those who suffer from spinal cord injury.

For runners, prevention of spinal cord injuries should happen on a daily basis when running or living through your lifestyle routines. That means staying active physically, maintaining a proper diet, stretching and strengthening the spine and neck, focusing on body posture, and working in enough rest.

If you run long enough, it is a matter of time before you experience pain and injuries to your knees, feet, heels and leg muscles. Those are injuries to expect and to live through for any runner. Hopefully, you will never experience a spinal cord injury. However, it is important to be fully literate on this topic.

Sources used while researching for this article 

The sources used for this assignment have all been very well researched before being included in this article. The sites used for this articles and the content that was researched has been written by professional in their field. However, it is important to know that the information you have just read should not be taken as medical advice. If you feel any form of pain in the spine it is imperative that you consult a doctor about the pain you are experiencing. Your doctor has years of study and research under his belt. Consult your doctor if you feel you have spinal cord injury.

Co-written by Aaron Moore

Curated by Diana Rangaves, PharmD, RPh

Sources

  1. Mayo Clinic Staff,,   Spinal Cord Injury, Mayo Clinic, May 12, 2017
  2. Brent P. Goodman, Myeloneuropathy: Spinal Cord Pain, Very Well, Oct 08, 2014
  3. Shraddha Rupaveta, Reasons junk foods are bad for you, The Health Site, Aug 25, 2015
  4. Ann Pietrangelo and Elea Carey, MD, MBA, Fast Food Effects on the body, Health Line, Mar 13, 2015
  5. Kelly Andrews, DC, Spine-health Nutrition, Spine Health, Jan 14, 2016
  6. Staff Writer, Benefits of Eating Right, My Food Diary, May 10, 2017
  7. Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Spinal Cord Research, Science Daily, Jun 04, 2015
  8. Trina Remedios,, Foods for the Nervous System, Healthy Living, Apr 08, 2015
  9. WebMD Staff, Lower Back Pain, WebMD, Jun 12, 2014
  10. WebMD Staff, Benign Tumors of the Spine, Web MD, May 15, 2015
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