The possibility of spinal cord trauma should be considered in anyone who has been in a severe automobile accident or who has experienced significant injury to the head or neck.
If you are conscious, you will be asked about neck pain and whether you can feel and move your arms and legs. Significant pain, bruising and swelling of the skin and tissues over the neck or back may raise the suspicion of a spinal cord injury. A physical examination may reveal loss of sensation, weakness, and abnormal reflexes.
You also will be assessed for whether you have other injuries that may be diverting attention from a neck injury, and for the presence of other signs of spinal cord injury. X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) also may be used to evaluate your spine and the spinal cord.
A cervical collar to keep your neck immobilized often will be left in place until the results of tests are available. If a spinal cord injury is suspected, the collar may be left in place for at least several days, even if tests are negative, in case an injury does exist but hasn't been detected because of swelling or muscle spasm.
Complete spinal cord injuries are diagnosed when total loss of sensation and control occurs. Incomplete injuries cause variable amounts of sensory loss, weakness or paralysis, depending on the site of the injury.
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