injuries usually begin with a blow that fractures or dislocates your vertebrae,
the bone disks that make up your spine. Most injuries don't sever your spinal
cord. Instead, they cause damage when pieces of vertebrae tear into cord tissue
or press down on the nerve parts that carry signals. In a complete spinal cord
injury, the cord can't relay messages below the level of the injury. As a
result, you are paralyzed below the level of injury. In an incomplete injury,
you have some movement and sensation below the injury.
A spinal cord
injury is a medical emergency. Immediate treatment can reduce long-term effects.
Later treatment usually includes medicine and rehabilitation therapy.
Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Spinal cord injury symptoms depend
on two factors:
The location of the injury. In
general, injuries that are higher in your spinal cord produce more
paralysis. For example, a spinal cord injury at the neck level may cause
paralysis in both arms and legs and make it impossible to breathe without a
respirator, while a lower injury may affect only your legs and lower parts
of your body.
The severity of the injury.
Spinal cord injuries are classified as partial or complete, depending on how
much of the cord width is damaged.
In a partial
spinal cord injury, which may also be called an incomplete injury, the
spinal cord is able to convey some messages to or from your brain. So people
with partial spinal cord injury retain some sensation and possibly some
motor function below the affected area.
spinal cord injury is defined by total or near-total loss of motor function
and sensation below the area of injury. However, even in a complete injury,
the spinal cord is almost never completely cut in half. Doctors use the term
"complete" to describe a large amount of damage to the spinal
cord. It's a key distinction because many people with partial spinal cord
injuries are able to experience significant recovery, while those with
complete injuries are not.
injuries of any kind may result in one or more of the following signs and
Pain or an intense stinging
sensation caused by damage to the nerve fibers in your spinal cord
Loss of movement
Loss of sensation, including the
ability to feel heat, cold and touch
Loss of bowel or bladder control
Exaggerated reflex activities or
Changes in sexual function,
sexual sensitivity and fertility
Difficulty breathing, coughing
or clearing secretions from your lungs
Emergency signs and symptoms of spinal cord injury after a
head injury or accident may include:
Fading in and out of
Extreme back pain or pressure in
your neck, head or back
Weakness, incoordination or
paralysis in any part of your body
Numbness, tingling or loss of
sensation in your hands, fingers, feet or toes
Loss of bladder or bowel control
Difficulty with balance and
Impaired breathing after injury
An oddly positioned or twisted
neck or back
Your brain and central nervous
T ogether, your spinal cord and your brain make up your
central nervous system, which controls most of the functions of your body. Your
spinal cord runs approximately 15 to 17 inches from the base of your brain to
your waist and is composed of long nerve fibers that carry messages to and from
fibers feed into nerve roots that emerge between your vertebrae ¡ª the 33 bones
that surround your spinal cord and make up your backbone. There, the nerve
fibers organize into peripheral nerves that extend to the rest of your body.
Injury may be traumatic or
A traumatic spinal cord injury may stem from a sudden,
traumatic blow to your spine that fractures, dislocates, crushes or compresses
one or more of your vertebrae. It may also result from a gunshot or knife wound
that penetrates and cuts your spinal cord. Additional damage usually occurs over
days or weeks because of bleeding, swelling, inflammation and fluid accumulation
in and around your spinal cord.
spinal cord injury may be caused by arthritis, cancer, blood vessel problems or
bleeding, inflammation or infections, or disk degeneration of the spine.
Damage to nerve fibers
Whether the cause is traumatic or nontraumatic, the
damage affects the nerve fibers passing through the injured area and may impair
part or all of your corresponding muscles and nerves below the injury site.
Spinal injuries occur most frequently in the neck (cervical) and lower back
(thoracic and lumbar) areas. A thoracic or lumbar injury can affect leg, bowel
and bladder control, and sexual function. A cervical injury may affect breathing
as well as movements of your upper and lower limbs.
The spinal cord
ends at the lower border of the first vertebra in your lower back ¡ª known as a
lumbar vertebra. So injuries below this vertebra actually don't involve the
spinal cord. However, an injury to this part of your back or pelvis may damage
nerve roots in the area and may cause some loss of function in the legs, as well
as difficulty with bowel and bladder control and sexual function.
Common causes of spinal cord
The most common causes of spinal cord injury in the
United States are:
Motor vehicle accidents. Auto
and motorcycle accidents are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries,
accounting for almost 50 percent of new spinal cord injuries each year.
Acts of violence. About 15
percent of spinal cord injuries result from violent encounters, often
involving gunshot and knife wounds.
Falls. Spinal cord injury after
age 65 is most often caused by a fall. Overall, falls make up approximately
22 percent of spinal cord injuries.
Sports and recreation injuries.
Athletic activities such as impact sports and diving in shallow water cause
about 8 percent of spinal cord injuries.
Diseases. Cancer, infections,
arthritis and inflammation of the spinal cord also cause spinal cord
injuries each year.
Treatment of Spinal Cord Injuries
The mechanism of
acupuncture treatment of spinal cord injuries includes 1)stimulation of the
peripheral nerve ending (receptors) so to enhance the communications between the
effectors and central nervous system provided there is still connection, 2)
improvement of circulation and elimination of blood congestion and qi
stagnation, 3) facilitation of tissue healing around the injured spot, 4)
induction of the repair of damaged nervous tissue.
acupuncture treatment of spinal cord injuries consists of two parts: 1) systemic
regulations by stimulating acupoints on the arms and legs which are the origins
of the energy pathways--meridians, 2) spinal cord awaking process, that is to
stimulate the 17 pairs of acupoints along the sides of the spinal column where
the vertebral nerve roots emerge. Those 17 pairs of acupuncture are called Hua
Tuo Spinal Points, named after the famous Chinese medicine doctor( 145-208). The
acupoints are used to treat spinal cord injuries and internal conditions as
impulse stimulations have modernly been used in the treatment of spinal cord
injuries. Experimental Studies of electro-acupuncture in treating SCI show that
it can enhance NGFmRNA expression in spinal cord tissue, protect the intactness
of nerve tissue and accelerate the repair of spinal cord.
Dr. Wang and his
professor successfully treated a patient of severe spinal cord injury caused by
a falling beam on his lumbar area causing vertebral fractures and nerve damages.
The patient lost his sensory and motor functions for almost a year after the
accident. He received acupuncture and Chinese medicine treatment for a year and
half before he started to walk and then ride a bicycle.
Dr. Wang has also
treated many patients with infectious polyneuritis (Guillain-Barre syndrome)
with acupuncture and herbal medicine when he worked in Tianjin Medical
He always focuses
on the diagnosis, the analysis of the patient's real time condition (
differentiation of symptoms), and pays special attention to the systemic
treatment rather than the "local" problem. He believes that prompt
treatment with adequate amount of acupuncture stimulation is crucial in saving
the spinal cord functions.