Spinal Cord Injury
Can medical cannabis help people with this condition? Find out more below.
What is a Spinal Cord Injury?
A spinal cord injury is a damage to the spinal cord that results in a loss of function, such as movement or feeling. It occurs when the spinal cord is compressed, crushed, or severed, causing the nerve impulses that control the body’s muscles and sensations to be disrupted.
What causes it?
There are many causes of spinal cord injuries, including trauma from car crashes, falls, sports injuries, and medical conditions such as tumors, infections, and degenerative diseases. Spinal cord injuries can range from mild to severe, resulting in temporary or permanent disability.
How common is it?
The incidence of spinal cord injury varies depending on the country and region. According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, in the United States, there are approximately 17,810 new cases of spinal cord injury each year, with an estimated 294,000 people living with the condition. Globally, it is estimated that there are around 250,000 to 500,000 new cases of spinal cord injury each year.
Are there types/stages?
Yes, there are different types and stages of spinal cord injury. The classification of spinal cord injury is usually based on the location and severity of the damage.
Types of spinal cord injury:
a. Complete spinal cord injury: This occurs when there is a total loss of motor and sensory function below the level of damage.
b. Incomplete spinal cord injury occurs when there is some degree of motor or sensory function below the level of injury. Incomplete spinal cord injuries can be further classified into several categories, including:
- Central cord syndrome: This type of injury affects the center of the spinal cord, resulting in weakness or paralysis in the arms and hands but less severe symptoms in the legs.
- Anterior cord syndrome: This type of injury affects the front of the spinal cord, resulting in loss of sensation and motor function below the level of injury while leaving the ability to feel temperature, touch, and pressure intact.
- Brown-Séquard syndrome: This type of injury affects one side of the spinal cord, resulting in weakness or paralysis on one side of the body and loss of sensation on the other.
- Conus medullaris syndrome: This type of injury occurs at the end of the spinal cord, resulting in loss of function of the bladder, bowel, and sexual organs.
- Cauda equina syndrome: This type of injury occurs below the conus medullaris and affects the nerve roots that control the lower limbs, bladder, bowel, and sexual organs.
Stages of spinal cord injury:
The stages of spinal cord injury refer to the body’s initial response to the injury. The two stages of spinal cord injury are:
a. Acute stage: This stage occurs immediately after the injury and lasts several days to weeks. During this stage, swelling and inflammation around the injury site can cause further damage to the spinal cord.
b. Chronic stage begins weeks or months after the injury and can last for years. During this stage, further loss of function may occur due to scar tissue formation or other complications.
Signs & Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of spinal cord injury can vary depending on the location and severity of the injury. Some common signs and symptoms include:
- Loss of sensation: This can include numbness or tingling in the extremities, loss of sensation to touch, temperature, or pain.
- Loss of motor function can include paralysis or weakness in the arms, legs, or trunk.
- Difficulty breathing: Injuries to the upper cervical spine (neck) can affect the muscles that control breathing, leading to difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
- Loss of bladder or bowel control: Spinal cord injury can affect the nerves that control the bladder and bowel, leading to loss of control and/or difficulty emptying the bladder or bowels.
- Sexual dysfunction: Injuries to the spinal cord can affect sexual function, including difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection or inability to ejaculate.
- Muscle spasms or spasticity can include involuntary contractions or stiffness in the muscles.
- Low blood pressure: Spinal cord injury can affect the body’s ability to regulate blood pressure, leading to low blood pressure and dizziness upon standing.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Diagnosis and treatment of spinal cord injuries typically involve a combination of medical history, physical examination, imaging tests, and various treatment approaches.
a. Medical history: The doctor will ask about the patient’s symptoms, previous medical conditions, and recent injuries.
b. Physical examination: The doctor will perform a physical exam to check for signs of spinal cord injury, including reflexes, muscle strength, and sensation.
c. Imaging tests: Imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans may be used to determine the location and extent of the injury.
a. Immobilization: Immobilization of the spine is often the first step in treating spinal cord injuries. This may involve using a neck collar or a back brace to prevent further damage to the spine.
b. Medications: Medications may be prescribed to manage pain, inflammation, muscle spasms, and other symptoms.
c. Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be required to stabilize the spine, remove foreign objects, or decompress the spinal cord.
d. Rehabilitation: Rehabilitation is an integral part of treatment for spinal cord injuries. This may involve physical, occupational, and other therapies to help the patient regain strength, mobility, and independence.
e. Assistive devices: Assistive devices such as wheelchairs, braces, and other equipment may be recommended to help the patient with daily activities.
It is important to note that the treatment approach will depend on the type and severity of the injury and the patient’s overall health and medical history. A comprehensive process involving specialists, including neurologists, neurosurgeons, rehabilitation specialists, and other healthcare professionals, is often necessary to provide the best possible care for spinal cord injury patients.
Can medical cannabis help?
Medical cannabis, which contains cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, has been studied for its potential therapeutic effects on various conditions, including spinal cord injuries. While more research is needed to fully understand the benefits and risks of medical cannabis for spinal cord injuries, there is some evidence to suggest that it may help in the following ways:
- Pain relief: Medical cannabis has been shown to have analgesic properties and may help to reduce pain associated with spinal cord injuries.
- Spasticity reduction: Medical cannabis may help reduce muscle spasms and spasticity, common symptoms of spinal cord injuries.
- Anti-inflammatory effects: Medical cannabis has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, which may help to reduce inflammation in the spinal cord and promote healing.
- Neuroprotection: Medical cannabis may have neuroprotective properties, which could help to protect the spinal cord from further damage.
There have been some studies on the use of medical cannabis for spinal cord injuries, although more research is needed to fully understand its potential benefits and risks. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Neurotrauma found that cannabinoids may have therapeutic potential for spinal cord injuries due to their anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects. Another study published in the Journal of Pain Research in 2019 found that medical cannabis effectively reduced pain and spasticity in patients with spinal cord injuries.
Last Updated: April 6, 2023
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