Spinal cord injuries are classified according to which vertebrae are involved. In a C7 injury the nerves below the C7-T1 junction are no longer able to communicate with the Central Nervous System. These types of injuries can be caused by a blow to the spine. Motor vehicle accidents are the most common cause, but any violent impact can cause a cord injury. Other possible causes are cancers, infections, and stenosis.
The most common treatment, post injury, is a massive injection of Methylprednisolone. This is a powerful anti-inflammatory steroid. Since most of the damage in a cord injury case comes from inflammation of the cord, this can be highly effective. Continued use of the substance, however, can result in undesirable and dangerous side-effects. Many experimental treatments are being developed, but the only reliable current treatment is rehabilitation.
Symptoms of c7 spinal cord injury
C7 spinal cord injuries have a specific suite of symptoms that accompany them. Diagnosis still requires the use of both CAT and MRI scans, but a survey of the symptoms can give a very accurate picture of where and how the cord is injured. Although no two persons are identical, the anatomy of the nervous system is very consistent. At the gaps between the vertebrae, nerves exit the spine to connect with other parts of the body. The parts of the body affected by the injury give a clear picture of where, and how serious, the injury is.
A C7 spinal cord injury is generally regarded as the threshold for retention of functional independence. The patient with this injury will have full use of the head and neck muscles. He should have good movement of the shoulders, and will retain control of elbow flexion. His manual dexterity will be degraded, though. Breathing will be somewhat problematical, but he will be able to breathe on his own using his diaphragm. The severity of the injury will determine the nature of his disability, and his hope of recovering function in the future.
Treatment of spinal cord injuries consists of rehabilitation and exercise. Psychological treatment is also important. The patient will go through a grieving process, and can be greatly helped by professional therapy. He will also have to learn to communicate his needs to his caregivers, no matter how embarrassed he may feel. Surviving the injury will require a complete change in the way that the patient deals with other people.
The nature of rehabilitation is such that it is essential for the patient be involved in planning and execution. Rehabilitation of C7 spinal cord injuries can actually lead to the patient having a rewarding and satisfying life, albeit a very different life from the one lead before the injury.
Rehabilitation consists of two phases. In the first phase, which never really ends, motion-patterning exercises help to retain motion and prevent wasting in the paralyzed limbs. This is essential to the continuance of proper circulation and the prevention of cramps and pain. Pain in the paralyzed portion of the body can be life-threatening to a cord injury patient. A syndrome known as Autonomic Dysflexia can manifest from unsensed pain caused by cramps, sores, or even an overfull bladder. It is caused when the pain signals excite the autonomic nervous system in the spine below the site of the injury. This pain can cause a “fight or flight” response in the body, resulting in sweating, rapid heartbeat, and high blood pressure. If this is allowed to continue, or happens frequently, a stroke can occur. It can be easily recognized, but must be dealt with immediately to prevent damage.
The rest of rehab is what is commonly called “occupational therapy.” It is not related to any occupation, though, except for that of getting on with life. C7 patients are still able, with training, to deal with bladder and bowel function. This does require some effort, but is one of the most important steps toward living an independent life. A wheelchair will be needed for mobility. The C7 patient can easily operate an electric wheelchair, and many are able to use a manual chair. Upper body strength is important to the retention of true mobility. The well-trained patient will be able to transfer himself to and from the wheelchair, although getting in and out of a car can still be difficult. Other rehabilitation involves the performance of daily tasks, such as cooking and feeding oneself. The severity of the injury will determine the degree to which dexterity can be recovered. Dexterity will circumscribe the limits between which tasks can be performed, and which tasks will require help.
Regular and conscientious therapy, combined with a positive outlook, can help to gradually restore some of the lost function in many patients. The severity of the injury will determine the amount and kind of improvement.