When to Suspect a Spinal Injury

An injury to the head, neck or back may damage the bones (vertebrae) of the spinal column, the discs between them, the supporting ligaments and muscles, or the spinal cord itself.

A spinal injury can be extremely serious. Damage to the spinal cord or the nerves that run from it may lead to paralysis and other complications, such as an inability to breathe unaided.

Remember that a spinal injury may be associated with a head injury, which can also be serious.

Signs and Symptoms of a Spinal Injury

  • pain and tenderness in the neck or back
  • a ‘step’ in the normally smooth curve of the spine
  • weakness or loss of movement or sensation in the legs and sometimes the arms
  • abnormal sensation in the limbs – burning, tingling, heaviness or stiffness
  • difficulty breathing
  • incontinence

Sometimes such symptoms arise as a result of ‘spinal shock’, due to injury to the spinal cord that may heal in time. However, if the spinal cord is severed, the damage is likely to be permanent.

Any movement of the spinal column that could further damage the spinal cord must, therefore, be avoided if there is any possibility of spinal injury.

When to Suspect a Spinal Injury

  • fall from a height
  • fall or impact onto the head (such as when diving into a shallow swimming pool)
  • falling off a horse or motorcycle
  • an injury from a collapsed rugby scrum
  • fall that twists or bends the neck, for example landing awkwardly on a trampoline, or while doing gymnastics
  • a heavy object falling on the head, neck or back
  • a motor vehicle collision, especially a head-on collision

John Furst

JOHN FURST is an experienced emergency medical technician and qualified first aid and CPR instructor. John is passionate about first aid and believes everyone should have the skills and confidence to take action in an emergency situation.

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