Causes of spinal injuries

Spinal injuries can be caused by a number of different accidents including trips or falls, accidents at work, road traffic accidents or accidents which involve a person falling from a height or landing awkwardly.

Symptoms of spinal injuries

Common symptoms of spinal injuries include shooting pains and tingling in the casualty’s limbs, difficulty with breathing and a loss of feeling and movement below the waist.

Effects of spinal injuries

The effects of spinal injuries can be extremely serious and potentially life threatening, due to the proximity of the spinal cord. The spinal cord is vital for mobility and sensation as it delivers sensory messages to the brain via the nervous system; if the spinal cord is damaged it may cause areas of paralysis or regionalised loss of sensation and movement. Severe damage to the spinal cord may cause permanent paralysis.

First aid treatment for spinal injuries

The most important thing to remember when responding to a casualty with a spinal injury is to keep them as still as possible; even the slightest of movements could impact significantly on the condition of the casualty. You should try to support their head and neck by placing your hands either side of their head; this will help to stabilise the position of their head and neck and prevent them from moving. You should call the emergency services as quickly as possible; do not attempt to move them until emergency help arrives. If the casualty is conscious try to reassure them and keep them talking; if they lose consciousness you should be prepared to carry out CPR.

The modified recovery position

If the casualty loses consciousness it may be necessary to put them in a recovery position; the recovery position used with a spinal injury is different to that of a normal accident and you will need the assistance of another person to put the casualty in the modified recovery position. Firstly, you will need to support the casualty’s head and neck by placing your hands either side of their head; the other person should gently raise one leg so it is bent at the knee.

You should then stretch the casualty’s arms out so they are at right angles from the body; the opposite arm to the leg that is raised should then be placed over the casualty’s chest. The casualty should then be moved gently onto their side; they should be supported by both helpers during this movement; the head should be held in line with the spine. Finally, one person should move the top leg and settle the arm under the casualty’s cheek; the other person should support the head and neck.