Wondering what happens after a C6 spinal cord injury?
This article will go over the functional and rehabilitative outcomes of C6 spinal cord injuries.
C6 Spinal Cord Injury
So what parts of the body does C6 spinal cord injury affect?
Myotomes are motor nerve fibers that stimulate certain muscles and allow movement.
Dermatomes are sensory nerve fibers that innervate areas of skin so you can feel.
The C6 myotome allows for elbow flexion and wrist extension.
The C6 dermatome innervates the thumb, index finger, and inner forearm.
Motor and sensory functions above the level of injury will not be affected. Therefore, C6 spinal cord injury patients will be able to move their heads, necks, shoulders, as well as some of their elbows and wrists.
However, C6 is still a very high level of spinal cord injury which means hand, trunk, and lower body functions will be limited.
What to Expect After C6 Spinal Cord Injury
Every C6 spinal cord injury is going to be a little bit different.
Depending on the severity of your injury, you may experience some sensations or motor control below your level of injury.
Let’s go over some of the major functional changes C6 spinal cord injury patients experience.
1. Bowel and Bladder Dysfunction
With C6 spinal cord injury, you can’t control the reflexes, contractions, or relaxations of the bowel and bladder muscles.
These muscles can be flaccid (constantly relaxed) or spastic (constantly contracted).
Paralysis in this area makes you very prone to accidents because you can’t feel when you need to relieve yourself.
2. Autonomic Dysreflexia
Your autonomic nervous system is responsible for regulating involuntary body processes like temperature, heart rate, digestion, and blood pressure.
Autonomic dysreflexia is when your autonomic nervous system overreacts, resulting in sudden high blood pressure.
Anything that irritates your body (tight clothes, jewelry, a full bladder, heat) below your level of injury can cause autonomic dysreflexia.
Because of SCI, your autonomic nervous system isn’t receiving the brain signal to relax, which can be fatal if not properly taken care of.
Some symptoms of autonomic dysreflexia include sweating, blotchy skin, anxiety, and headaches.
The best ways to manage autonomic dysreflexia are to avoid extreme temperatures, be mindful of your bowel and bladder patterns, and regularly check that nothing is placing a lot of pressure on your skin.
Spasticity is when your muscle continuously contracts which can be painful and result in spasms.
Believe it or not, spasticity is a good indicator of spinal cord injury recovery.
It shows that your body is capable of movement and feeling, which means that your spinal cord is not completely severed and that connections between your brain and body still exist.
Spasticity management consists of:
- muscle relaxants like baclofen or Botox
- stretching to lengthen the tight muscle
- surgery (only in severe cases)
Just like spasticity, pain is a good sign of recovery.
Yes, even feeling pain is better than feeling nothing at all with spinal cord injury.
It indicates that some neural circuitries have survived the spinal cord injury and that recovery is possible.
You can only feel pain if the brain is receiving the stimulus.
5. Change in Body Composition
Because C6 spinal cord injury can result in so much paralysis, it will be difficult to control how often and how much you move.
Our bodies are meant to be actively moving throughout the day and when we don’t, our muscles and bones will shrink and weaken from disuse.
Loss of bone and muscle mass will result in weight loss.
While many of you wouldn’t mind losing a few pounds, this type of weight loss can be very detrimental to your health.
Weak bones and muscles will slow down your metabolic rate, decrease circulation, and increase your risk of injury.
Despite this, many SCI patients experience weight gain because they end up eating too much for how little they move.
It’s all about finding the right balance between eating and staying active. Having your caregiver help you with passive range of motion exercises in areas where you have no motor control will help improve circulation and stimulate your muscles.
C6 Spinal Cord Injury Recovery
Recovery for C6 spinal cord injury will mostly consist of physical therapy (which focuses on developing your gross motor skills through exercise) and occupational therapy (which focuses on developing your fine motor skills through activities of daily living).
The main goal of spinal cord injury recovery is to reteach your body how to move again by activating neuroplasticity through repetition.
The more you repeat an action, the easier it is for your brain to recognize the movement.
There are a lot of factors that inhibit spinal cord regeneration (glial scarring, myelin inhibitory molecules, cystic cavitation, etc).
Spinal cord neuroplasticity generally focuses on promoting synaptic reorganization in axons that survived the injury rather than regenerating severed axons.
Axonal sprouting is when nerve segments sprout from uninjured axons to reinnervate muscle fibers. This allows for neural circuit reconstruction.
The more you move, the more you stimulate neuroplasticity and the stronger the connection between your brain and body becomes.
Although there is no cure for spinal cord injury, there are some very promising treatments in progress like epidural stimulation and stem cell transplants.
Both of these potential treatments require extensive physical training to recover movement.
So while researchers develop these treatments, it’s definitely a good idea to work on the physical therapy part and practice moving as much as you can.