Today in the United States, about 285,000 people are living with a spinal cord injury, and researchers say that another 17,500 will suffer this serious type of injury every year. These injuries are among the most life-altering that U.S. workers experience—the nature of the injuries and related health issues affect daily life significantly and often keep workers away from the job for months, years, or even the rest of their lives. The physical, emotional, and financial challenges associated with spinal cord injuries can cause substantial stress and hardship for injured workers and their families. In Ohio, the workers’ compensation program can help employees ensure that they receive the medical care and compensation they need to remain secure and stable.
Understanding Spinal Cord Injuries and the Causes
A spinal cord injury can encompass different types of damage to any part of the spinal cord from either trauma or disease. For workers, an overwhelming number of these injuries are the result of some type of trauma or accident. According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC), spinal cord injuries are most often caused by:
- Vehicle accidents
- Acts of violence
- Sports and recreation
Vehicle accidents and falls, the two leading causes, account for 69 percent of all spinal cord injuries.
When an accident or trauma occurs, part of the vertebrae can be compressed, fractured, punctured, dislocated, or crushed. This can also affect the nerves that run along the spine, injuring them and preventing them from sending the appropriate messages to other parts of the body.
Types of Spinal Cord Injuries
The complicated nature of the spine means that injuries can manifest in a number of ways. Spinal cord injuries are affected by the location where the trauma occurred along the spine and the severity of the injury. Medical providers refer to the level of the injury as equal to the lowest part of the body that functions below the site of the injury. The severity is most commonly described as:
- Complete. All (or nearly all) feeling and ability to control movement is lost below the location of the injury.
- Incomplete. Some motor function and feeling remains below the site of the injury. Incomplete injuries can affect a person to varying degrees.
In addition, spinal cord injuries can often result in paralysis, the inability to move, and the inability to feel. Typically, they are differentiated as:
- Tetraplegia (or quadriplegia). The loss of movement and possibly feeling in the arms, hands, legs, trunk, and pelvis.
- Paraplegia. The loss of movement and possibly feeling in the trunk, legs, and pelvis.
Medical Treatment Options for Work-Related Spinal Cord Injuries
Spinal cord injuries require a significant amount of specialized medical care and the recovery can be slow or limited. These injuries can affect the skin, digestive system, circulatory system, respiratory system, muscles, and mood. In addition to needing assistance with daily activities such as dressing, bathing, traveling to appointments, and more, those who suffer spinal cord injuries face a number of medical interventions.
In the early stages of treatment after injury, it is common for injured workers to be immobilized, receive drugs to slow the degeneration of the tissues, or even undergo surgery. Going forward, those who suffer a spinal cord injury require ongoing treatment. Some common interventions include:
- Prescription medications
- Physical rehabilitation
- Occupational therapy
- Additional surgery
Currently, there are no medical interventions that can reverse the effects of a spinal cord injury, though there have been a number of recent developments that doctors and researchers hope will improve outcomes. Modernized wheelchairs, robotic gait training, and increased electronic aids can help improve mobility. Additionally, a researcher and bionics expert at MIT is investigating ways to make a synthetic spinal cord a reality for the injured.
In Ohio, injured workers can be treated at the Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Center, which offers a nationally-recognized comprehensive program to address the unique needs of those with a spinal cord injury. At OhioHealth Grant Medical Center, surgeons have been implanting spinal cord stimulators that provide pain relief without the use of opioids, which are accompanied by significant addictive risks.
Suffering a spinal cord injury on the job can have devastating effects on your life and the lives of those you love, but support and care are available. At Monast Law Office, Jim Monast has helped many injured workers obtain the medical attention and compensation they need to be successful after a work injury. Call our Upper Arlington office today to learn more about what we do and how we can help, or take a moment to fill out the contact form on this page. We can answer your questions and schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.