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Acute Spinal Cord Injury: Symptoms & Causes

Sandeep Dhanyamraju MD
Medically reviewed by Sandeep Dhanyamraju
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Sandeep Dhanyamraju MD
Medically reviewed by Sandeep Dhanyamraju

Acute spinal cord injury (SCI) presents a complex and urgent medical challenge. It impacts millions worldwide annually. This injury results from trauma. It often involves accidents, falls, or sports-related incidents. This leads to immediate and often irreversible neurological impairment.

Understanding SCI involves delving into its multifaceted nature, encompassing both its physiological mechanisms and its profound implications on the affected individual’s life.

This article involves scrutinizing the cascade of events triggered by the initial trauma. Moreover, we will grasp the clinical manifestations and potential complications of acute SCI. It’s paramount for timely intervention and optimal patient outcomes.

We can pave the way for therapeutic tactics, rehabilitation approaches, and improved care. Thereby, we enhance the quality of life for those afflicted with this condition.


What is Acute Spinal Cord Injury?

A medical professional discussing a spinal model

SCI refers to sudden and often traumatic damage. It’s inflicted upon the spinal cord, resulting in immediate neurological impairment.

It’s typically caused by accidents, falls, or sports-related incidents. It disrupts the communication between the brain and the body below the injury site.

This disruption can have different types. It can lead to varying degrees of paralysis, loss of sensation, and other neurological deficits. It depends on the severity and location of the injury. The acute phase of SCI involves a cascade of pathological events. It includes:

  • Primary mechanical damage to the spinal cord tissues.
  • Secondary cellular and molecular responses, such as inflammation and apoptosis.

Understanding what is the nature of acute spinal cord injury is crucial for:

  • Timely diagnosis.
  • Intervention.
  • Management, aimed at minimizing further damage.
  • Facilitating recovery.

Examining the characteristics and consequences of acute SCI helps medical professionals implement targeted tactics. They optimize patient outcomes and improve their quality of life following such injuries.


Acute Spinal Cord Injury Symptoms

SCI manifests through a variety of signs. They can range from mild to severe depending on the extent and location of the injury. Identifying these signs promptly is critical. It’s for initiating appropriate medical intervention and optimizing patient outcomes. Here are eight common signs of SCI.

educational graphic with a list of spinal cord injury symptoms

Loss of Motor Function

One of the hallmark signs of acute SCI is the loss of voluntary motor function below the level of the injury. This can result in paralysis or weakness in the limbs, trunk, or even the entire body. It depends on the severity and location of the injury.

Sensory Changes

Another acute spinal cord injury symptoms are alterations in sensation. They’re numbness, tingling, or heightened sensitivity. It’s below the level of the injury. Patients may experience loss of sensation to touch, temperature, or pain. It depends on the specific nerve pathways affected.

Impaired Reflexes

Damage to the spinal cord can disrupt normal reflexes. It leads to hyperreflexia (exaggerated reflex responses) or hyporeflexia (diminished reflex responses). Changes provide valuable diagnostic clues about the level and severity of the SCI.

Loss of Bladder and Bowel Control

Also, the acute spinal cord injury symptom is dysfunction of the bladder and bowel. It leads to urinary and fecal incontinence. Patients may experience difficulty controlling urination or defecation. Or they may lose these functions entirely.

Respiratory Complications

Injuries to the cervical or upper thoracic regions of the spinal cord can impair respiratory function. It leads to breathing difficulties or respiratory failure. Patients may require mechanical ventilation or respiratory support to maintain adequate oxygenation.

Muscle Spasms and Spasticity

Patients may experience involuntary muscle spasms, stiffness, or spasticity in the affected limbs. These acute spinal cord injury signs can be disruptive and may require medical management. It’s to alleviate discomfort and improve mobility.

Autonomic Dysfunction

Acute SCI can disrupt the function of the autonomic nervous system. It leads to abnormal blood pressure, heart rate variability, and temperature regulation. Patients may experience episodes of orthostatic hypotension, autonomic dysreflexia, or thermoregulatory abnormalities.


SCI often causes neuropathic pain. It’s characterized by sharp, shooting sensations, burning, or tingling in the affected areas. Pain management is an essential component of care. It involves pharmacological interventions, physical therapy, and other modalities. It’s to alleviate discomfort and improve quality of life.


Spinal Cord Injuries Causes

A person examining a set of spinal X-ray images

SCIs can result from various traumatic and non-traumatic events. They inflict damage on the spinal cord or surrounding structures. Understanding the causes is essential. It’s for implementing preventive measures and improving outcomes for affected individuals. Here are eight common causes of SCI.

Traumatic Injuries

Trauma is the leading cause. It results from motor vehicle accidents, falls, sports-related incidents, or acts of violence. The sudden impact or force applied to the spine can cause fractures, dislocations, or compression of the spinal cord. It leads to neurological impairment.


Falls are a significant spinal cord injury cause. It’s particularly among older adults and young children. Falls from heights or on slippery surfaces can lead to fractures or compression injuries to the spine. It’s especially in the cervical and thoracic regions.

Motor Vehicle Accidents

Car, motorcycle, and pedestrian accidents are also common causes. They account for a substantial proportion of traumatic SCIs worldwide. The high-speed impact and forces involved can cause severe spinal cord damage. It often leads to permanent disability.

Sports Injuries

Participation in football, rugby, diving, or gymnastics can increase the risk of SCI. It’s particularly in contact sports or activities involving sudden acceleration or deceleration. Collisions, falls, or improper techniques can all contribute to SCI in athletes.


Assaults, gunshot wounds, or stab injuries, can also be spinal cord injury causes. Penetrating injuries or blunt force trauma to the spine can result in:

  • Spinal cord compression.
  • Laceration.
  • Contusion, leading to neurological deficits.

Recreational Activities

Skiing, snowboarding, surfing, or horseback riding pose a risk. It’s especially when safety precautions are not followed.

Medical Conditions

Non-traumatic spinal cord injury causes include medical conditions. They’re spinal tumors, infections (e.g., spinal abscess), degenerative diseases (e.g., spinal stenosis), or autoimmune disorders (e.g., transverse myelitis). They lead to spinal cord compression, ischemia, or inflammation, resulting in neurological dysfunction.

Birth Injuries

SCI can occur during childbirth. It’s due to fetal malpresentation, excessive traction, or traumatic delivery methods. Birth-related SCIs may result in nerve damage, spinal cord compression, or fractures. It leads to long-term neurological deficits in the newborn.



In conclusion of our “Acute Spinal Cord Injury” guideline, understanding the causes, signs, and implications is vital. It’s for promoting prevention, early intervention, and optimal patient care. Whether resulting from traumatic incidents, medical conditions, or accidents, doesn’t matter. SCI can have profound and life-altering effects.

As you navigate the complexities of spinal cord injury care, we urge you to consider Lone Star Neurology Clinic as your healthcare provider and acute spinal cord injury guideline.

Our team of neurologists, surgeons, and rehabilitation specialists is committed to providing comprehensive, personalized care to individuals. Our services range from diagnosis to treatment, rehabilitation, and ongoing support. We strive to optimize outcomes and enhance the quality of life for our patients. Together, let’s embark on a journey towards recovery and empowerment. Contact Lone Star Neurology Clinic today. Learn more about our services and how we can assist you on your path to wellness.



What constitutes an acute spinal cord injury?

An acute spinal cord injury involves sudden trauma or damage to the spinal cord. It results in immediate neurological impairment. For example, paralysis, loss of sensation, or altered reflexes.


How is acute spinal cord injury diagnosed?

It’s diagnosed through a combination of:

  • Clinical assessment.
  • Medical history.
  • Imaging studies (such as MRI or CT scans).
  • Neurological examinations to evaluate motor and sensory function.


What are the immediate steps to take if someone suspects a spinal cord injury?

If someone suspects a spinal cord injury, immediate steps include:

  • Stabilizing the spine to prevent further damage by keeping the person still.
  • Avoiding movement of the head or neck.

Emergency medical services should be called promptly. It’s for evaluation and transport to a medical facility equipped to manage injuries.


Can people recover from an acute spinal cord injury?

Recovery from an acute spinal cord injury varies. It depends on the severity and level of the injury, as well as individual characteristics. Some people may feel partial or full recovery with rehabilitation and medical interventions. Others may have long-term disabilities requiring ongoing care and support. Early intervention and comprehensive treatment can optimize outcomes. And it improves the quality of life for individuals with acute spinal cord injuries.

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Edward Medina
Edward Medina
15:34 30 Jun 22
Just such an amazing staff that makes you feel like part of their family. I’ve been going there for over 5 years now... and each visit I get the very best care and treatments that I have ever received in the 20+ years that I’ve been dealing with severe debilitating migraines. Since i started seeing them the number of my migraines has dropped from 15-20 a month to 2-3 every 3 month. I highly recommend them …they will change your life!read more
Daneisha Johnson
Daneisha Johnson
22:20 19 May 22
Dr. Askari was very kind and explained everything so I could understand. The other staff were nice as well. I would... have gave 5 stars but I was a little taken aback when I checked in and had to pay 600.00 upfront. I think that should have been discussed in a appointment confirmation call or email just so I could have been more
Jean Cooper
Jean Cooper
16:54 29 Apr 22
I love the office staff they are friendly and very helpful. Dr. JODIE is very caring and understanding to your needs... and wants to help you. I will go back. would recommend Dr. Dr. Jodie to other Patients in a heart beat. The team works well more
Linda M
Linda M
19:40 02 Apr 22
I was obviously stressed, needing to see a neurologist. The staff was so patient and Dr. Ansari was so kind. At one... point he told me to relax, we have time, when I was relaying my history of my condition. That helped ease my stress. I have seen 3 other neurologists and he was the only one who performed any assessment tests on my cognitive and physical skills. At one point I couldn't complete two assessments and got upset and cried. I was told, it's OK. That's why you're here. I was truly impressed, and super pleased with the whole experience!read more
Leslie Durham
Leslie Durham
15:05 01 Apr 22
I've been coming here for about 5 years. The staff are ALWAYS friendly and knowledgeable. The Doctors are the absolute... best!! Jodie Moore is always in such a great mood which is a plus when you are already stressed. Highly recommendedread more
Monica Del Bosque
Monica Del Bosque
14:13 25 Mar 22
Since my first post my thoughts have changed here. It's unfortunate. My doctor and PA were great, but the office staff... is horrible. They never call you back when they say they will, they misinform you, they cause you too much stress wondering what's going on, they don't keep you posted. They never answer the phone. At this point I've left four messages in the last week, and I have sent three messages. Twice from their portal and one direct email. No response. My appointment is on Monday morning at 8:30am, no confirmation on my insurance and what's going on. What the heck is going on, this is ridiculous!I've given up... the stress her office staff has put me through is just not worth it. You can do so much better, please clean house, either change out your office staff, or find a way for them to be more efficient please. You have to do something. This is not how you want to run your practice. It leaves a very bad impression on your more
Ron Buckholz
Ron Buckholz
23:32 23 Mar 22
I was actually pleasantly surprised with this visit! It took me a long time to get the appointment scheduled because no... one answers your phones EVER! After a month, I finally got in, and your staff was warm, friendly, and I was totally impressed! I feel like you will take care of my needs!read more
Steve Nabavi
Steve Nabavi
16:28 16 Mar 22
It was a nice visit. Happy staff doing all they can do to comfort the patients in a very calming environment. You ask... me they are earned a big gold star on the fridge. My only complaint they didn't give me any more
Katie Lewis
Katie Lewis
16:10 10 Feb 22
Had very positive appointments with Jodie and Dr. Sheth for my migraine care. Jodie was so fast with the injections and... has so much valuable info. I started to feel light headed during checkout and the staff was SO helpful—giving me a chair, water, and taking me into a private room until I felt better. Highly recommend this practice for migraine patients, they know what they’re doing!!read more
Joshua Martinez
Joshua Martinez
16:02 10 Dec 21
I was scheduled to be checked and just want to say that the staff was fantastic. They were kind and helpful. I was... asked many questions related to what was going on and not once did I feel as though I was being brushed off. The front desk staff was especially great in assisting me. I'm scheduled to go back for a mri and am glad that I'll be going more
Isabel Ivy
Isabel Ivy
21:42 03 Nov 21
I had such a good experience with Lone Star Neurology, Brent my MRI Tech was so awesome and made sure I was very... comfortable during the appointment. He gave me ear plugs, a pillow, leg support and blanket, easiest MRI ever lol 🤣 My 72 hour EEG nurse Amanda was also so awesome. She made sure I was take care of over the 3 days and took her time with the electrodes to make sure it was comfortable for me! Paige was also a huge help in answering all my questions when it came to my test results, and letting me know her honest opinions about how I should go forth with my more
Leslie Luce
Leslie Luce
17:37 20 Oct 21
The professionalism and want to help attitude of this office was present from the moment I contacted them. The follow... up and follow through as well as their willingness to find a way to schedule my dad was above and beyond. We visited two offices in the same day with the same experience. I am appreciative of this—we spend a lot of time with doctors and this was top notch start to more
robert Parker
robert Parker
16:38 16 Apr 21
I love going to this office. The staff is friendly and helpful. The doctor is great. I am getting the best... neurological tests and treatment I have ever had. The only reason I did not give them a 5 star rating is because it is impossible to reach a live person at the office to reschedule appointments. Every time I have tried to get through to the office it says all people are busy and I am sent to a voicemail. If they could get their phone answering fixed, I would give them a strong 5 more
MaryAnn Hornbaker
MaryAnn Hornbaker
00:26 25 Feb 21
Dr. Harney is an excellent Dr. I found him friendly , personable and thorough. I evidently am an unusual case. ... Therefore he spent a Hugh amount of time educating me. He even gave me literature to further explain my condition and how to follow up. This is something you rarely get from your doctors. So I am more than please with my doctor and his more
Roger Arguello
Roger Arguello
03:05 29 Jan 21
Always courteous, professional. The staff is very friendly and always work with you to find the best appointment time.... The care team has been great. Always taking the time to listen to your concerns and to find the best more
Margaret Rowland
Margaret Rowland
01:12 27 Jan 21
I have been a patient at Lone Star Neurology for several years. Now both my adult daughters also are patients there. I... love Jodie. She is always so prompt whether it is a teleamed call are a visit in the office. She takes the time to explain everything to me and answers all my questions. I am so blessed to have Jodie as my more
Susan Miller
Susan Miller
03:01 13 Jan 21
My husband had an accident 5 years ago and Lone Star Neurology has been such a blessing to us with my husbands care.... Jodie Moore is his provider and she is amazing! Jodie is very knowledgeable, caring, and thorough. She takes her time with you, making sure your needs are met and she is happy to answer any questions you may have. Lone Star Neurology’s patients are very lucky to have Jodie providing their care. Thank you Lone Star Neurology and especially Jodie for everything you have done for us. Jodie, you are the best!read more
Windalyn C
Windalyn C
01:32 09 Jan 21
Jodie is wonderful. She is very caring and knowledgeable. I have been to over a dozen neurologists, and none were able... to help me as much as they have here. Thanks!read more
Katie Kordel
Katie Kordel
00:40 09 Jan 21
Jodi Moore, nurse practitioner, is amazing. I have suffered from frequent, debilitating headaches for almost 20 years.... She has provided the best proactive and responsive care I have ever received. My quality of life has been greatly improved by her caring approach and tenacity in finding more
Ellie Natsis
Ellie Natsis
15:41 07 Jan 21
I have had the best experience at this neurologist's office! For over a year I have been receiving iv treatments here... each month and my nurse, Bobbie is beyond wonderful!! She's so attentive, knowledgeable, caring, and detail oriented. She makes an otherwise uncomfortable experience much more pleasant and definitely puts me at ease! She also helps me with my insurance,ordering this specialty medication and dealing with the ordering process which is no easy feat.Needless to say, she goes above a beyond in every way and I'm so grateful to this office and to Bobbie for all they do for me!read more
Matt Morris
Matt Morris
15:39 07 Jan 21
Let me start by saying that I have been coming here for years. Due to my autoimmune disease, I am in this office... once every three weeks for multiple hours at a time. The office is very clean and the staff very friendly. My only complaint would be there communication via phone. They aren't the best at responding if you leave a voicemail and expect a call back. I understand that this is prob just due to the sheer number of alls they receive daily. What I can say I like the best about the office are the people. Bobby who handles my infusions is great. I never have any issues with her setting up my infusions. She is very quick to reply to messages sent via text and if she were to leave then my whole opinion of the office may change. I also enjoy people like Matt, Lauren, and Jodi. I appreciate all that they do for me and without this team I'm not sure I would be as happy as I am to visit the office as frequently as I have to. Please ensure that these folks are recognized as they are what makes my visit to this office so tolerable :).read more
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