Impact trauma to the head, neck or spine can result in a debilitating spinal cord injury. The extent of disability depends on the location and severity of the injury. According to the Mayo Clinic, auto accidents cause more than 50% of spinal cord injuries each year. 

Knowing the signs of damage to the spinal cord can help people understand when to seek immediate medical attention if they or a loved one suffers this type of injury. 

Immediate symptoms of injury 

When an auto accident occurs, call 911 if anyone involved experiences or displays: 

  • A twisted back or neck 
  • Trouble breathing 
  • Inability to walk or trouble balancing 
  • Bladder or bowel incontinence 
  • Loss of sensation, tingling, pain or numbness in the extremities 
  • Paralysis or weakness 
  • Significant pressure or pain affecting the back, head or neck 

Lack of immediate treatment for this type of injury can worsen the complications associated with spinal cord trauma. If there is any possibility of a spinal cord injury, make sure the person remains still and do not move him or her. Provide basic first aid without disrupting the head or neck if the person is bleeding. Try to keep the neck and head as still as possible until first responders arrive. 

Long-term impact 

In the weeks and months following a spinal cord injury, the patient may experience: 

  • Trouble coughing, clearing the lungs and/or breathing 
  • Stinging or pain in the injured area 
  • Limited sexual sensitivity and function 
  • Muscle spasms or exaggerated reflexes 
  • Bladder or bowel incontinence 
  • Loss of sensation, including pressure, cold and heat 
  • Limited mobility 

Often, a person who has a spinal cord injury in an accident needs extensive treatment to return to normal life. He or she may also have a permanent disability associated with this trauma. If the injury occurred in an accident in which another driver was at fault, the victim may be eligible for legal damages that cover medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.