Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal Cord Injury
Spinal Cord Injury

The spinal cord connects your brain to every part of your body. This bundle of nerves begins at the base of your skull and runs all the way down to your tailbone. While it is protected by the bones of your spine, it can be injured in a number of different ways. Depending on the location of the injury and its severity, this could lead to a wide range of complications, from limited mobility to complete paralysis or even death.

What Is Spinal Cord Injury?

Your spinal cord is responsible for carrying information from your brain to other parts of your body, as well as from your body to your brain. When damage to your spinal cord occurs, that communication is interrupted. In most cases, spinal cord injuries are caused by blows to the neck or back that dislocate one or more vertebrae. These pieces of bone then tear into the spinal cord, or they may press down on parts of it, pinching the spinal cord.

These injuries can result in a wide range of changes. They can affect your ability to move, your strength, or even your ability to feel sensations. In some cases, these changes are permanent, but in others, treatment and therapy can help to mitigate the situation, at least to some extent.

The American Association of Neurological Surgeons reports that 11,000 spinal cord injuries occur each year, and that there may be as many as 450,000 people living in the US with some type of spinal cord injury.

What Are the Most Common Types of Spinal Cord Injury?

There are two primary types of spinal cord injury – complete and incomplete. These primarily define the amount of damage done by the injury. For instance, in a complete spinal cord injury, almost all motor control and sensation are lost below the point of the injury.

In an incomplete spinal cord injury, some function remains below the injury point, but the amount of function will vary from patient to patient. Anterior cord syndrome, central cord syndrome, and Brown-Sequard syndrome are examples of common incomplete injuries.

Who Is at Risk for a Spinal Cord Injury?

Anyone of any age can sustain a spinal cord injury. It simply requires being involved in a severe accident of some type. However, there are some groups that are more at risk than others. Men are more likely to sustain such an injury than women. Younger men are more likely than older men to engage in dangerous activity that would lead to a spinal cord injury.

Risky behavior, such as diving in shallow water, failing to wear protective gear while playing sports, and the like, will definitely increase your risk. Those who are over the age of 65 are also at greater risk due to falls. Anyone with a bone or joint disorder is also at greater risk.

What Are the Symptoms of a Spinal Cord Injury?

The signs and symptoms of a spinal cord injury vary from person to person, but also depend on the severity of the injury. Some common symptoms include extreme back pain or a feeling of pressure, a lack of coordination, a feeling of muscle weakness, numbness or tingling in your extremities, loss of bladder control, difficulty breathing after being involved in an accident, and difficulty with balance.

How Are Spinal Cord Injuries Treated?

Treating a spinal cord injury will depend on the type and severity of the injury. In most instances, it will require immediate admittance to the hospital. Traction is the most common treatment method for compatible incomplete injuries. Other standard care types include treating infection, monitoring breathing and/or using ventilators, and monitoring blood pressure and cardiovascular function. Surgery may be necessary in some cases, as well. Treatment may also need to be provided for secondary complications, including bed sores, pneumonia, DVT, pulmonary embolism, and more.

What Role Do Stem Cells Play?

Stem cells are the building blocks of the body, and are the progenitors of all other cell types. They are present in the body from before birth through death, although they lose much of their healing and regenerative capabilities as the body ages. Given their foundational role in the human regenerative system, a great deal of study is being conducted on the use of stem cells in treating a wide range of diseases and injuries, including spinal cord injury.

In 2018, a study was published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences entitled Stem Cells Therapy for Spinal Cord Injury. The authors explore and discuss how pluripotent stem cells and others may be used to help heal spinal cord injuries, and conclude that stem cells can significantly reduce neurological disability in most spinal cord injuries.

In 2016, the Mayo Clinic began a clinical trial to study the impact of human stem cells on patients who had suffered a spinal cord injury. The same year, California’s Stem Cell Agency published the story of a young man who was able to regain the use of his arms and hands after completing stem cell therapy. These are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Numerous other studies have been conducted, and even more are ongoing.

What Is the Difference between Allogeneic and Autologous Stem Cells?

The difference between autologous and allogeneic stem cells is an important one. Many therapies rely on autologous stem cells, which are sourced from the patient’s body. The problem here is that these cells are usually old and lack vitality. They also carry cellular damage that triggers an immune response. Allogeneic stem cells are harvested from banked umbilical cord blood and tissue. They are pluripotent and highly energetic, and they are also invisible to the human immune system.


While there is as yet no official treatment, stem cells hold immense promise for those suffering from recent spinal cord injuries, as well as those who were injured long ago. Note that there is currently no FDA-approved stem cell therapy in the US, and any such treatment is experimental.


Young man with spinal cord injury regains use of hands and arms after stem cell therapy
Stem Cells Therapy for Spinal Cord Injury
Clinical trial of stem cell therapy for traumatic spinal cord injury
Spinal Cord Injury
Spinal Cord Injuries
Mayo Clinic: Spinal cord injury

Indiana Polyclinic

201 Pennsylvania Parkway, Suite 200
Indianapolis, IN 46280
Phone: (317) 805-5500
Fax: (317) 805-5501
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