Spinal Cord Injuries: First Aid

Spinal cord injury or myelopathy is a result of an injury in the nerve fibers of the spinal cord. In severe cases permanent paralysis and other complications may result. A complete injury will result in no movement or sensation below the point of the injury. Ventilators, physical therapy and wheel chairs are required in a spinal cord injury situation.

Causes and symptoms

Spinal Column

Damage to the spinal column (pictured above) can cause paralysis and other permanent injuries. Strong knowledge in first aid can help prevent these injuries.

Nerve fibers (more information about the anatomy of the spinal cord can be found here) may be damaged as a result of car accidents, falls, diving accidents, gun shots and conditions which include tumor, polio, Spina Bifida and Friedreich’s Ataxia.

Signs and symptoms of spinal cord injuries include:

  • Bleeding of the scalp, neck or back
  • The neck, back and/or head looks as if they have been positioned in an odd manner
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Stiffness of the neck
  • Discharge of blood or any other fluid from the ear, nose or mouth
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Inability to move various parts of your body such as arms or legs. Walking becomes difficult
  • Loss of control of bowel and bladder
  • Confusion, hallucinations and drowsiness
  • Numbness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Seizures

First aid and treatment

Once you are sure that the person is suffering from a spinal injury, take the following steps while you wait for help to arrive:

  • Move the person to a secure environment if the area is unsafe.
  • Immobilize the person’s body and keep him still. Secure the neck by placing heavy towels on both sides to prevent the neck from making any movement. Movements may dislocate the spinal cord and aggravate the condition; therefore, immobilizing the neck, head and body is extremely important.
  • If the person does not show any sign of circulation by breathing or any other movement, begin CPR immediately. Make sure you do not tilt the head to open the airways. Gently hold the jaw using your fingers and lift it forward.
  • Begin chest compressions if the person has no pulse.
  • If the injury is due an automobile accident and the person is wearing a helmet, do not try to take it off.
  • If the person is vomiting or choking on blood, get help from another person and try to roll the person together. Work together to ensure that the head, neck and back are aligned while rolling the person. One person should secure the head while the other should be right beside the injured person.
  • Apply pressure on the edges of the wound to prevent it from bleeding. Make a ring pad with pieces of cloth, shaped like a doughnut to secure the wound. Do not poke or directly touch the injured area.
  • Do not wash the wound with water and do not use any forms of antiseptics on the wounded areas.
  • If a pinkish fluid or blood flows out of the ears, mouth or nose, do not try to stop it. Allow it to drain.


  • Make sure you always wear a seatbelt while driving to prevent spinal injury in case of an accident
  • For children and babies, more secure seatbelts must be used that are specifically designed to protect young children
  • Do not use cell phones while driving
  • Do not drive after heavy consumption of alcohol
  • Do not dive into shallow pools of water.

Related Video on Spinal Cord Injuries


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