Hesperian Health Guides

How to Prevent More Severe Spinal Cord Injury in Case of Accident

When a person has just had an accident that may have injured the spinal cord, great care must be taken to prevent further damage.

After an accident, there may be spinal cord injury if:

  • the person is unconscious, or
  • the person cannot move, cannot feel, or has numbness in his legs or hands.

If you think the spinal cord might be injured:

  • Do not move the person until a health worker with a large board or stretcher arrives. Especially avoid bending the person’s neck and back.
  • Lift the person without bending him, onto a board or stiff stretcher. (A stiff rack is better than a soft stretcher. Make one out of poles from trees or whatever is available.) Make ties of strips of clothing, or whatever you can.
  • Tie him down firmly and stabilize his head.
  • Carry the person to a medical center or hospital. Try not to bounce or jiggle him.

a person on a stretcher
sandbags or rolls of clothing to hold head firmly

from Where There Is No Doctor

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Make sure that the head and neck do not bend.
With great care, lift the injured person without bending him anywhere. Have another person put the stretcher in place.

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With the help of everyone, place the injured person carefully on the stretcher. If the neck is injured or broken, put bags of sand or tightly folded clothing on each side of the head to keep it from moving. When carrying, try to keep the feet up, even on hills.

Common secondary problems in children with spinal cord injury

a child with problems from spinal cord injury Sudden high blood pressure with pounding headache (dysreflexia) due to irritation in non-feeling parts (quadriplegics only) (see "Dysreflexia").
Curving or ‘hunching’ of spine (see "Maintaining Healthy Positions").
Urinary infections (may involve kidneys and cause death).
Burns or other injury where body cannot feel (see "Early Physical Re-education").
Pressure sores (bed sores) in body areas where feeling has been lost (see Chapter 24).
Pressure sores caused by long-leg brace.
Rash or sores between legs due to loss of urine and bowel control (see "Early Physical Re-education).
Spasticity causes legs to straighten and pull together and feet to ‘tiptoe’ stiffly (see "Early Questions That a Spinal Cord Injured Child and Family May Ask").
Leg bones do not grow as fast, become thin and weak, and can break easily, especially if the child does not bear weight on them. (See "Keeping Active".)
Periods of depression, anger, and difficulty accepting disability (see "Helping the Child and Family Adjust").
Child suffers greatly in hot weather because body loses ability to control its temperature (see "Early Physical Re-education").
Increased risk of pneumonia in quadriplegics, due to weak breathing muscles (see "Physical Therapy Following Spinal Cord Injury").
Contractures—especially of

— elbows and hands (in quadriplegics)
— hips (bend up and pull together)

— tiptoe and club foot deformities, especially in small children (see "Maintaining Healthy Positions").

To prevent or reduce the harmful effects of these problems, special precautions need to be taken early and continued throughout life.

This page was updated:21 Nov 2019