The Vault

All you need to Know about Spinal Shock and Treatment Options - Spine Center of Texas
back pain, spine center, back surgery
Spinal Nerves: Anatomy, Function, and Common Conditions
spinal vertabrae - back pain
Spinal Vertebrae: Anatomy, Function, and Common Conditions
back pain, spine center, back surgery
Spinal Nerves: Anatomy, Function, and Common Conditions
spinal vertabrae - back pain
Spinal Vertebrae: Anatomy, Function, and Common Conditions
Show all

All you need to Know about Spinal Shock and Treatment Options

Spinal shock is a condition that occurs after a spinal cord injury. The disorder is characterized by a partial or complete loss of reflexes below the level of the injury; reflexes above the injury continue to function normally. After a spinal injury, spinal cord enters a state shock, causing short-term interruption of the individual’s reflexes. The situation is dangerous because it interferes with and may eliminate the body’s ability protect itself from harm.

There are four phases of spinal shock:

  • Phase 1 – weakening or total loss of reflexes below the injury. Phase 1 lasts up to two days.
  • Phase 2 – partial return of reflexes below the injury. Phase 2 lasts up to three days after the initial injury.
  • Phase 3 – return of unusually strong reflexes with very little stimulation. Phase 3 lasts one to four weeks.
  • Phase 4 – return of strong reflexes continues and may be accompanied by spasticity. Phase 4 lasts one to twelve months.

Symptoms of spinal shock include:

  • Elevated blood pressure and low heart rate
  • Changes in body temperature
  • Bladder incontinence and diminished genital reflexes
  • Heavy sweating or flushing without sweating
  • Changes in sensory or vasomotor response
  • Pale, dry skin
  • Skeletal muscle changes

A physician diagnoses spinal shock by conducting a physical examination and reviewing spinal MRI and CT imaging results.

Initial treatment for spinal shock often requires immobilization of the back and neck to eliminate the risk of further injury.  Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat and prevent infections, and corticosteroids may be given to reduce inflammation. Surgery is necessary if the spinal cord is out of alignment or if bone fragments must be removed. Spinal fusion will help stabilize the spine and prevent further damage. Any compression on the spinal cord or nerves caused by a herniated disc, foreign objects, or fractured vertebrae also requires surgical intervention.

Do not attempt to move an individual if spinal shock is suspected; call 911 immediately.

If you have a spinal cord injury and would like to learn about our treatment choices from one of our specialists, please contact our San Antonio, Seguin or New Braunfels offices.