The spinal cord contains the nerves that carry messages between your brain and body. The cord passes through your neck and back.
Spinal cord trauma can be caused by injuries to the spine, such as:
- Gunshot wounds
- Industrial accidents
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Sports injuries
A minor injury can damage the spinal cord if the spine is weakened, such as from rheumatoid arthritis or osteoporosis. Injury can also occur if the spinal canal protecting the spinal cord has become too narrow (spinal stenosis) due to the normal aging process.
Direct injury, such as bruises, can occur to the spinal cord if the bones or disks have been weakened. Fragments of bone (such as from broken vertebrae, which are the spine bones) or fragments of metal (such as from a traffic accident or gunshot) can damage the spinal cord.
Direct damage can occur if the spinal cord is pulled, pressed sideways, or compressed. This may occur if the head, neck, or back is twisted abnormally during an accident or intense chiropractic manipulation.
Bleeding, fluid buildup, and swelling can occur inside or outside the spinal cord (but within the spinal canal). The buildup of blood or fluid can press on the spinal cord and damage it.
Most spinal cord trauma happens to young, healthy individuals. Men ages 15 to 35 are most often affected. The death rate tends to be higher in young children with spinal injuries.
Risk factors include:
- Participating in risky physical activities
- Riding in high-speed vehicles
- Diving into shallow water
Older people with weakened bones (from osteoporosis) or persons with other medical problems (such as stroke) that make them more likely to fall may also have spinal cord injury.