When to seek medical advice

Published: April 24, 2005
142

Spinal cord injury isn’t always obvious. Numbness or paralysis may result immediately after a spinal cord injury or gradually as bleeding or swelling occurs in or around the spinal cord. In either case, the time between injury and treatment is a critical factor that can determine the extent of complications and the level of recovery.

Anyone who has experienced significant trauma to the head or neck needs immediate medical evaluation for the possibility of spinal cord injury. In fact, it’s safest to assume that trauma victims have an unstable spine fracture until proved otherwise.

If you suspect a back or neck injury, don’t move the injured person. Permanent paralysis and other serious complications may result.

Take these steps once you suspect someone has a spinal injury:

* Dial 911 or call for emergency medical assistance. * Keep the person still. * Place heavy towels on both sides of the neck to prevent it from moving, until emergency care arrives. * Provide basic first aid, such as stopping any bleeding and making the person comfortable, without moving the head or neck.