Spinal cord injuries are one of the most severe injuries a child can experience. A spinal cord injury can have long-term consequences, including disability and major disruptions to a child’s way of life. The body’s spinal cord is critical to overall health and functionality, and injuries to the spinal cord can impact the child’s entire body.
How common are spinal cord injuries in children?
Approximately 5% of all spinal cord injuries occur in children. Although rare, when they do occur, spinal cord injuries can have severe and irreversible consequences. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), only 10-25% of pediatric patients recover fully from a spinal cord injury, and around 64% of children recover partially.
What causes spinal cord injuries?
A spinal cord injury can result from any accident that causes trauma to the spinal cord. However, some of the most common accidents that cause spinal cord injuries in children include:
- Car crashes
- Being struck by a motor vehicle
- Accidents related to sports activities
- Injuries from child abuse or domestic violence
How do spinal cord injuries impact children?
A spinal cord injury can have consequences that change a child’s life forever. The extent of the injury and what part of the spinal cord is impacted are two of the most important factors in how affected the child will be by the injury.
Symptoms vary based on the severity of the injury. Some of the most common symptoms that accompany a spinal cord injury include:
- Spinal shock (numbness, loss of movement)
- Difficulty breathing
- Diminished bowel and bladder function
- Numbness in arms, legs, or chest
The course of treatment for a spinal cord injury depends on the injury’s magnitude and what part of the body is impacted. Treatment generally includes time in the ICU where the patient can be observed, and doctors can create a long-term treatment plan.
While in the hospital, the child will generally work with various medical professionals, including trauma specialists, neurologists, neurosurgeons, and physical and occupational therapists.
Long term impact
Adjusting to life following a spinal cord injury can be a very long and difficult process for a child and their family. Spinal cord injuries often have permanent impacts that can lead to major changes to the child’s way of life, as well as their family’s way of life. Depending on the extent spinal cord injury, the child may need:
- A wheelchair for increased mobility
- A feeding tube (if throat and neck muscles were affected by the injury)
- Medications to help with bladder and bowel function
- Medications to manage the pain
- A ventilator, if the child’s breathing is affected
In addition to these treatments, physical therapy is crucial for a child with a spinal cord injury. Physical therapy can help prevent muscle wasting and other complications and help the child have the best long-term outcomes.