Spinal injury could involve soft tissues (muscles and ligaments), bones (vertebrae and discs), and neural tissue (spinal cord and nerves). It is important for primary assessment to establish the presence of an injury and initiates
immediate treatment to avoid worsening either the primary or the secondary injury.


  • Road traffic accidents
  • Assault
  • Blunt injury
  • Penetrating injuries: sharp objects like knives, spears and firearms
  • Sports injury
  • Falling from a height

Bone injury could be stable or unstable and could be associated with neurological manifestation like paraplegia or quadriplegia depending on the level of injury. The injury could be a compression fracture with retropulsion of bone fragments into the spinal canal, causing spinal cord compression or complete transection of the

Clinical Features

  • Condition may present as part of the multiply injured patient and caution is needed not to overlook this condition.
  • Neurogenic shock may be present. Neurogenic shock refers to the haemodynamic triad of hypotension, bradycardia, and peripheral vasodilatation resulting from autonomic dysfunction and the
    interruption of sympathetic nervous system control in acute spinal cord injury.
  • Spinal shock is defined as the complete loss of all neurological function, including reflexes and rectal tone, below a specific level that is associated with autonomic dysfunction.


  • Plain spinal radiographs: It is critical to maintain cervical stability during transfer and examination.
  • Scans in facilities where available.


Where no specialist
  • Ibuprofen 400mg orally or diclofenac 75mg IM STAT
  • If open wound: tetanus toxoid 0.5 STAT and appropriate antibiotic
    • Care of the spinal column should be observed with application of a cervical collar or a hard board. Practice log rolling procedure at all times. Spinal stabilizing should be provided during transportation. Resuscitation should continue during transportation.
    • Where facilities for surgical toilet for associated injuries are available, this may be performed prior to referral.
    • Refer to a specialist for acute treatment and thereafter spinal injury unit for rehabilitation. Transfer should be made even if the clinical manifestations of spinal injury are minor.
At specialist level
  • Bone injuries addressed through surgery or other means
  • Spinal decompression as appropriate for the individual case.
  • Skin, bladder, and bowel care.
  • Rehabilitation with physiotherapy, occupational therapy, prosthetic and orthotic fittings, etc.