Diagnosing a spinal cord injury

A work-related fall or motor vehicle accident can result in a devastating spinal cord injury. This is why emergency responders take such care when they prepare to move someone they suspect has suffered such an injury. This procedure typically includes the use of a backboard or neck brace, as well as other techniques for transporting the accident victim to a hospital.

Because a spinal cord injury can lead to permanent disability, doctors usually perform a series of tests to determine the exact nature and extent of the injury. This is the first step in determining an appropriate regimen for recovery.

The vital role of the spinal cord

The spinal vertebrae do more than just support a person’s back. They also house and protect the spinal cord that allows sensation and movement throughout the body. The sympathetic nerve system (SNS) in the spinal cord controls a person’s breathing and other bodily functions. The SNS also allows the lymphatic system to function, which plays a vital role in preventing infections. In addition, a spinal cord injury can reduce the flow of blood below the point of the injury, resulting in severe low blood pressure and reduced heart rate, a condition known as neurogenic shock.

A battery of diagnostic tools are used

When a person with a suspected spinal cord injury arrives at a hospital, a medical team will conduct a thorough examination. This can include:

X-rays -These can identify obvious spinal fractures though x-rays are less useful for identifying small fractures in the neck.

Computed Tomography (CT) scan – This diagnostic tool is better than x-rays for finding small fractures. However, a CT scan is less useful in identifying soft tissue injuries affecting discs, ligaments and nerves.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) -This tool can identify soft tissue injuries and areas of concern, such as hemorrhage or disc herniation.

Electrophysiology – This advanced technique measures the levels of nerve activity in different parts of the body. It can help a doctor predict what level of recovery the patient may be able to achieve.

Obtaining and paying for medical care

Needless to say, the costs of these tests are very high and that’s just for starters. The injured person may face weeks or months of recovery, medical treatment and physical therapy. It’s a well-known fact that many workers’ compensation insurance companies attempt to limit their liability in catastrophic injury cases by denying claims or contesting the level of disability. However, an injured worker who is not getting the medical and wage loss benefits he or she deserves does have options. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can help the injured worker obtain an objective medical evaluation, and the benefits he or she is entitled to receive.

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