A compressed spinal cord can be caused due to various reasons, but keeping an eye out for early signs can help prevent permanent paralysis.
For 22-year-old Rajat Mehra the future held a lot of promises. His budding career as an athlete was going just as he had dreamt off and things couldn’t have been better on the personal front either. However, a freak motorcycle accident left him with a spinal injury. The trauma of the injury was such that it left his spinal cord compressed, leading to paralysis. According to his doctors, if he had received treatment even an hour earlier, the prognosis could’ve been better.
Spinal cord compression is a reality that many people deal with. This occurs when the spinal cord is compressed due to various reasons. “Spinal cord compression could occur due to several reasons like congenital causes, developmental abnormality, trauma, infectious diseases, osteoporosis and malignancy. Of these trauma is the most common cause of spinal cord injury in India,” says Dr KJ Reddy, senior consultant orthopaedist, Apollo Hospital.
The age group of patients varies depending on the cause. For instance, congenital compression occurs in children, infectious diseases could affect young adults, trauma could be the cause for compression in anybody who leads an active life while malignancy and osteoporosis are common causes for compression in elders.
“Some of the most common symptoms of spinal cord compression are pain in the back, pain radiating to the legs, a tingling numbness and in extreme cases a patient may find that he/she cannot control their bowel movements,” says Dr Reddy.
“Diagnosis is based on the symptoms the patient presents with, an X ray and an MRI scan. In case of an infection or malignancy a biopsy is the most conclusive evidence we can rely on.”
Early treatment is important. “Treatment is once again based on the cause of the compression. For instance, in case of an accident or fall, the patient must receive treatment within 8 to 12 hours of the accident. Decompressing the spine is very important here. In patients with congenital compression we generally suggest that the deformity is corrected with surgery and rods are put in to support the spine.
In case of infectious diseases, the disease itself needs to be treated, followed with support by way of rods to the spine. In patients with malignancy, radiotherapy is suggested,” explains Dr Reddy.
“Delay in treatment can lead to paralysis. An important thing to remember when it comes to spinal injuries is that if the nervous tissue is damaged then nothing can be done as it does not regenerate,” he says.
- Although there are various causes for spinal compression that can’t be prevented, compression due to wear and tear can.
- Get regular exercise. Exercise strengthens the muscles that support your back and helps keep your spine flexible.
- Maintain good posture and learn how to safely lift heavy objects. Other good body mechanics include sleeping on a firm mattress and sitting in a chair that supports the natural curves of your back.
- Maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, know that excess weight puts more stress on your back and can contribute to developing symptoms of spinal compression.