Take the following quiz to test your understanding of spinal cord injury and its causes.
1: Firearms are a leading cause of spinal cord injury.
2: You don’t have to have direct trauma to your neck to actually break the vertebrae and injure the cord.
3: Helmets will help prevent spinal cord injuries.
4: Spinal cord injuries can paralyze you, but not kill you directly.
5: Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of spinal cord injury in people under the age of 65.
6: If you suffer an injury like a fractured cervical vertebrae (neck bone) that can lead to a spinal cord injury, you may not have any pain or symptoms right away.
1: TRUE — If you’ve ever seen pictures of EMTs and paramedics working on a gunshot wound victim you may also have noticed the patient often is immobilized on a long backboard with a cervical collar, even when there appears to be no injury to the neck or back. The force of a bullet going into the torso creates a strong energy wave and, in some cases, a sudden and extreme increase in heat. This pressure and heat can cause severe damage to surrounding bone and tissue even without direct contact from the bullet. Patients are kept immobile on a backboard until spinal injuries are ruled out.
2: TRUE — For example, hitting your head on the bottom of a pool can cause direct trauma to your forehead, but the force is transferred back to the cervical (neck) portion of the spine and can result in a breaking of the vertebral bone and a stretching, tearing, or severing of the spinal nerves that are supposed to be protected within the vertebral bones. This also factors in with injuries sustained when diving into the surf and not knowing there’s a sandbar or shallow water beneath; diving into a lake or river and not realizing it’s shallow or that there are rocks, pilings, old cars, or other obstructions hidden below the surface; or body surfing on a day when the surf is rough and the waves are breaking close to shore. The latter are known as “dumpers” because they “dump” you hard onto the sand.
3: FALSE – Helmets protect your head and, depending on the type, your face, too. They do little to nothing to protect your spine.
4: FALSE – If the spinal injury is up high enough on the neck, you will not be able to control your breathing. If you are in the water when this occurs, death may occur even faster, especially if you are face down and nobody realizes you cannot roll yourself over. Many sufferers of spinal cord injury do die of secondary problems, months or years later.
5: TRUE — Being thrown from a car greatly increases the risk of spinal cord injury. Even low-speed accidents can cause spinal injury if no seat belt was worn. Insist that everyone (including you) wear a seat belt, and don’t drive with anyone who has been drinking alcohol.
6: TRUE — It’s not uncommon to have EMTs and paramedics immobilize a person at the scene of an accident based solely on what we call the mechanism of injury. Even if symptoms are not present, a cervical bone fracture may be present. This broken bone could move and slice the spinal cord or there may be a contusion (bruise) on the spinal cord that may not result in numbness or paralysis until the swelling increases minutes to hours later. If the pre-hospital medical personnel suggest you go to the hospital to have your neck/spine checked out, do so. There may be indications of this type of injury of which you are unaware.
More than half the 11,000 people who suffer spinal cord injury each year are between the ages of 15 and 29. Most of these tragic injuries are the result of sports injuries, diving, car accidents, and gunshot wounds. Older adults tend to suffer spinal cord injury more often from falls.