Spinal Cord Injury


A traumatic injury of the spinal cord can lead to spinal cord injury (SCI), which can be characterized by a bruise or a tear of the spinal cord. Depending where the injury is and how severe it is, partial or complete loss of feeling and control in just the arms (paraplegia) or both the arms and legs (tetraplegia) may be present. An estimated 12,000 SCIs occur annually as a consequence of auto accidents, acts of violence, falls, and sports injuries. Most spinal cord injuries occur in young people between the ages of 16-30, with the vast majority of those being males. The paralysis that follows an SCI is usually sudden. There may also be breathing, blood pressure problems, or problems controlling the bladder and bowel. Initial treatment may include surgery to maintain spine stability, breathing devices or specialized programs and equipment to prevent injury to the skin while in bed.   Many SCI patients experience difficulty controlling urinating or bowel movements. 

At UF, the Physiatry team will collect information about how the injury occurred, which may help to determine injury severity and if there are other associated injuries. At the Inpatient Rehabilitation Hospital, the Attending Physician will first perform a thorough examination including checking strength, reflexes, and sensation.   The initial examinations may help to predict long term recovery from SCI.  Precautions may be taken to prevent movement of the spine during the evaluation. The clinical care team will use Imaging of the spine and blood tests to assess if bleeding, infection or chemical abnormalities are present.  If a brain injury also occurred, tests of thinking and other additional tests may take place.

Rehabilitation:The primary goals of rehabilitation are to inform the patients and families with education about SCI, improve function and prepare the patient for return to the community.  Safety precautions will be taught to prevention of further injury or complications.  Patient and families will receive education and training on performing bowel and bladder programs.  Physical therapy and occupational therapy work with strengthening, stretch and mobility and helping the patient learn techniques for self-care.   Assistive devices, ramps, and other changes in the environment may also be helpful. Medications may be used to address disorders that may be associated with SCI such as spasticity, depression and pain.  Recovery depends on how severe the injury is, but most improvement is seen in the first 6 months after the injury. After the initial rehabilitation process, our Physiatrists will work with patients for long-term care needs.