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Know the signs of a spinal cord injury

Auto accidents are the leading cause of debilitating spinal cord injuries in the United States. According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, more than 38% of these injuries since 2015 occurred in a motor vehicle collision, and nearly 32% resulted from falls. 

If you or a loved one has experienced a recent auto accident, be aware of these signs of a spinal cord injury: 

Emergency symptoms

Spinal cord injuries are often immediately apparent after an accident or fall. The person may display: 

  • A disfigured or twisted back or neck 
  • Inability to breathe 
  • Mobility problems 
  • Bladder or bowel incontinence 
  • Lack of sensation, numbness or tingling in the extremities 
  • Intense pressure or pain affecting the back, head or neck 

Motor and sensory symptoms

The impact of a spinal cord injury on senses and motor function can be partial or complete, depending on its extent and location. Loss of the ability to move is the most characteristic sign of this type of injury. In addition to paralysis, spinal cord damage can also cause: 

  • Trouble clearing the throat, coughing and/or breathing 
  • Stinging and other types of pain 
  • Sexual dysfunction, changes in sensitivity and/or infertility 
  • Spasms and other unexpected muscle actions 
  • Bladder or bowel incontinence 
  • Loss of the ability to sense pressure, heat and/or cold 

Seek immediate medical attention after a car accident, especially if you notice any of these symptoms. The damage from a spinal cord injury can worsen without emergency care. Call 911, and keep the person still, since movement can cause or exacerbate paralysis. If the injured person is not breathing, attempt to perform CPR without tilting back his or her head. 

Wearing a seatbelt in a motor vehicle and a helmet during sports can significantly reduce the risk of a spinal cord injury. If another driver was responsible for the auto accident, you may be eligible for legal damages to cover costs associated with your injuries.