You don’t necessarily have to experience a traumatic event to get a spinal cord injury. A non-traumatic spinal cord injury is when an internal issue compresses your spinal cord.
In contrast, a traumatic spinal cord injury is caused by an external force like a car crash or fall.
This article will focus on what can cause non-traumatic spinal cord injuries and the main differences between non-traumatic and traumatic SCIs.
Causes of Non-Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury
Although many things can cause non-traumatic spinal cord injury, they can generally fall into one of these four categories.
If the cause of non-traumatic spinal cord injury is vascular, that means it has to do with your blood or blood vessels.
Vascular causes of non-traumatic spinal cord injury include:
- Hemorrhaging (blood loss from a broken blood vessel)
- Extreme Hypotension (low blood pressure)
- Aneurysm (bulge in the artery wall)
- Cardiac Arrest (sudden loss of heart function)
- Atherosclerosis (fat or cholesterol blocked artery)
- Embolism (blocked artery)
Blood supplies our vital organs with oxygen and essential nutrients so that they can function properly.
Whether it’s a heart condition, low blood pressure, or a blood clot, anything that blocks the spinal cord from getting enough blood can cause it to dysfunction.
Cancerous causes of non-traumatic spinal cord injury can be primary or secondary.
Primary cancers are those that originate inside or around the spinal cord.
Secondary cancers are those that spread from other sites such as the lungs, breasts, kidneys or thyroid.
Nearly 85% of all cancer-related SCIs are secondary.
Primary tumors of the spinal cord are much less common and usually benign.
Despite being benign, they can still press against the spinal cord and block motor and sensory functions.
Treatment for cancerous SCIs consists of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
Surgery will help remove the tumor as soon as possible to preserve neurological function and minimize pain.
Radiation therapy utilizes high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells and reduce tumors.
Chemotherapy uses powerful drugs to kill cancer cells. Unlike surgery or radiation therapy (which target certain areas), chemo will affect your entire body.
3. Inflammatory/ Infectious
Any sort of inflammation or infection can cause swelling that compresses the spinal cord and interrupts communication between the brain and body.
Transverse myelitis is inflammation of both the left and right sides of the spinal cord.
Although not all of its causes are known, it can be caused by a variety of infections or immune/ inflammatory disorders.
If the cause of non-traumatic spinal cord injury is degenerative, that means that it occurs from gradual wear and tear of your bones, discs or joints as you age.
Examples of degenerative causes of non-traumatic spinal cord injury include:
- Herniated Discs (when the cushions between your vertebrae slide out of their regular positions)
- Disc Degeneration (when discs become weaker from aging and cannot bear the weight placed on them, which increases stress on joints and ligaments)
- Osteoporosis (weakening of the bones that will increase the likeliness of fracture)
- Osteoarthritis (wear and tear of the joints that can make movement difficult or painful)
- Spinal Stenosis (narrowing of the spine)
Because your body naturally tends to weaken as your age, it’s important to eat healthy (to ensure that you’re getting all your essential vitamins and minerals) and exercise (so that your musculoskeletal system can be in tiptop shape and movement is easy).
Non-Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury Vs. Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury
Traumatic SCIs are more prevalent than non-traumatic SCIs, which is why most people tend to associate spinal cord injuries with major accidents.
Even though anyone at any age can get a traumatic spinal cord injury, non-traumatic spinal cord injuries typically have an older demographic because older people are more susceptible to health problems.
About 78% of traumatic SCI patients are male, while non-traumatic injury patients have a pretty even gender distribution.
This is because males are more likely to partake in risky behaviors that can result in serious injury while non-traumatic SCI’s can occur regardless of behavior.
They both result in spinal cord compression and show similar rehabilitation outcomes, meaning that both types of patients can benefit from the same rehabilitation methods.