What is Traumatic Central Cord Syndrome?

A quick Summary from Hamilton spinal cord injury lawyers

Central cord syndrome is the most common type of incomplete spinal cord injury. It generally affects the arms and hands more than it does the legs, but has a higher chance of recovery than many of the other types of spinal cord injury.  In younger accident victims it may occur following severe, high-energy, high-velocity spinal column trauma, as opposed to a more common incidence in the elderly after a forward fall or other minor hyperextension injuries.

Suffering from central cord syndrome can be incredibly limiting on one’s capabilities and physical functions. This generally results in physical suffering, emotional distress, and other forms of devastation for the victim. Going through this difficult time, especially when your injury was caused by someone else’s actions, can feel extremely frustrating and unfair.

In many cases of central cord syndrome, symptoms can be maintained through regular physical therapy. While it is necessary and helpful, regular physical therapy can result in significant consumption of time, resources, and finances. Due to the pain and suffering you have already undergone, this should not be an additional burden you need to endure.

Our Hamilton spinal cord injury lawyers are highly experienced in assisting spinal cord injury victims seek the resources and assistance they need to recover successfully. This support goes beyond legal representation and can be an asset during this difficult time. Whether you need recommendations for specialists, someone to talk to your insurance company for you, or assistance in traveling to and from your appointments, contact us and we can help.

What is Central Cord Syndrome?

Central cord syndrome occurs when the nerves that travel from the cerebral cortex to the spinal cord become damaged through impact to the cervical spine (neck). The brain’s ability to send and receive signals to and from parts of the body below the site of injury is reduced but not entirely blocked. This most often occurs when the neck is hyperextended or subjected to sudden significant trauma or impact. Individuals with central cord syndrome often experience paralysis or impairment to the upper body, with less severe symptoms occurring on the lower body.

The hands and other upper extremities are controlled through the corticospinal tract, in the center of the spinal cord. This is why they are the primary areas affected when an individual suffers from central cord syndrome. When these extremities are compressed, nerves can no longer send receptive signals and therefore their functionality becomes limited or degraded.

Central cord syndrome manifests in varying degrees of severity, and therefore the prognosis may range depending on the individual situation. Some individuals may recover motor function in their arms and legs, while others may suffer from permanent paralysis.

lastly, CCS is a more common type of spinal injury in people over 50 due to the arthritis or osteoarthritis that already exists and has weakened the vertebrae.

Common Signs and Symptoms

Central cord syndrome is a type of incomplete spinal cord injury and almost always occurs as a result of a traumatic injury. It results in motor deficits that are worse in the upper extremities when compared to the lower extremities

Individuals who suffer from central cord syndrome are affected in the upper extremities more than the lower ones, and therefore it is the upper extremities that are often affected first when injury occurs. For example, some individuals may begin to feel paralysis or weakness in their hands first before the pain impacts other areas.

Paralysis in the arms or legs is the most common symptom of central cord syndrome. If the individual does not undergo full paralysis, they may still experience limited movement capabilities in these extremities. In addition to paralysis in the arms and legs, an individual may also feel a burning sensation in the hands or parts of the upper body.

Due to the fact that the upper body is significantly more affected than the lower body, individuals with central cord syndrome may still be capable of bladder function and sensory perception in the lower body. However, in more severe cases, these functions may become limited or impaired and the individual may never fully return to complete mobility.

Symptoms may begin as mild disturbances and can potentially progress in severity. This can often result in missed diagnoses due to lack of symptoms during the onset of the injury.

Causes of Central Cord Syndrome

The main cause of central cord syndrome is trauma to the neck, generally occurring from an accident or other sudden impact. Usually, this occurs as a direct result of overextension, or hyperextension, of that part of the spinal cord. For example, if an individual is involved in a rear end motor vehicle collision, the impact from behind may cause their neck to become overextended in a sudden and forceful way as far as it can physically go, leading to severe damage of the central cord.

The Journal of Spine Injury indicated in a peer reviewed article in 2019 that main injury mechanisms were listed as:

  • fall in 55% patients
  • motor vehicle accident in 15% patients
  • pedestrian struck in 4% patients
  • assault in 2% patients
  • and miscellaneous/other in 24% patients.
  • overall, 10% patients with CCS were noted to have cervical fractures concomitantly.

. Individuals over the age of 50 are at higher risk of suffering from central cord syndrome, especially if they remain active to the point where overextension of the body may occur at any time. While it is important for the elderly to continue to engage in exercise and light physical activity, it is also important to ensure that safety precautions and individual comfort zones are taken into consideration.

While elderly populations tend to account for the majority of individuals who suffer from central cord syndrome, it does impact individuals of any age at any time. In particular, athletes and those who participate in high-contact or high-energy sports may also be at risk for overextension as well as ruptured or herniated discs that could lead to central cord syndrome.

Reaching a Diagnosis

Similar to other types of spinal cord injury, central cord syndrome is generally diagnosed using physical examination, possible x-rays, and an MRI or CT scan.

The initial physical, clinical examination of the body will occur immediately after the injury and will be based upon the individual’s symptoms. After suffering an accident, especially when trauma to the neck occurs, all individuals should seek medical attention regardless of whether or not there are any symptoms present in order to avoid the worsening of any unknown injuries.

It is common for a doctor to require the injured to utilize a neck brace until a final diagnosis can be determined. This allows the patient to ensure that further damage will not occur and that the neck is immobilized for the time being.

A doctor will use an MRI or a CT scan to locate any neurological damage and determine problem areas. In some cases, both scans will be utilized to provide extensive analysis. These scans are capable of showcasing specific nerve and spinal cord damage that may not be visible during an x-ray scan. As a result, the location of the damage and its severity may be seen and a treatment plan may be determined.

Treating Central Cord Syndrome: Is Recovery Possible?

Surgery is not always recommended to treat central cord syndrome depending on the underlying cause of the injury. If there is a specific lesion that is causing the pain, or if the patient is unable to recover without surgery, a doctor may decide to undergo a procedure. This surgery is done in order to decompress the affected area of the spinal cord. However, surgery is not always recommended for some individuals due to the possible complications that spinal cord injury victims could potentially endure after a procedure. This includes a higher chance of contracting pneumonia, pressure ulcers, or infection.

Typically, if an individual is showing signs of neurological improvement, non-surgical options for recovery will be utilized. Most importantly, this includes immobilizing the neck with the use of a collar or brace if necessary. Steroids may also be prescribed to the individual depending on their systemic reaction to them.

Additionally, physical therapy plays a key role in recovery. An individual can learn to regain function and recover mobility through regular and frequent physical and occupational therapy sessions. This will also assist the individual in recovering the strength and capability to reintegrate into society and return to many of their normal activities depending on their own dependence on assistive devices.

Many individuals do recover at least most of their sensory functions after central cord syndrome. Complete, full recovery is rare, but regaining bladder control and lower body function is common and occurs first in the process. Arms and upper body function will recover next, and then hands may recover last.

Recovery to the hands and arms can be unpredictable and vary. Some individuals may continue to experience minor numbness or clumsiness in the hands, while others may remain paralyzed in these areas.

Contact Our Hamilton Spinal Cord Injury Lawyers Today

Our Hamilton spinal cord injury lawyers understand what you are going through. We have assisted many victims with varying types of spinal cord injuries during their recovery. Our support goes beyond simply providing you with just legal support. We can help you get the assistance you need in many aspects of your life.

If you have suffered a spinal cord injury, our Hamilton personal injury lawyers can  help. We have strong connections with reliable, trusted professionals in Ontario and can recommend the best specialists to assist you. From caregivers to life planners to negotiating with your insurance company, we are able to provide many services that go above and beyond simply legal advice and representation – such as protecting your financial future. There’s no doubt that you will need a myriad of items to assist your condition now and as you age. Out Hamilton Spinal Cord Injury Lawyers, along with the appropriate life care planners, can ensure to calculate and project a clear, concise, and sensible presentation of your complex requirements to asssit with your present and future medical needs. Call our Hamilton Lawyers at 905-333-8888  or send us a confidential message through our online contact form to set up a free, no-obligation consultation.  And remember, we will never ask for money upfront.

*This information has been obtained from our experience and knowledge of spinal cord injury law as well as Medical Peer Reviewed Journals and Medical Studies from SCIRE (Spinal Cord Injury Research Evidence) as well as from “The Essentials of Spinal Cord Injury: Basic Research and Clinical Practice”.

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