Spinal Cord Injury (Pediatric)

What is spinal cord injury?

Spinal cord injury occurs when any section of the spinal cord is damaged due to trauma during birth, accidents, violence, or falls. Spinal cord injury may also arise from medical conditions such as tumors or autoimmune dysfunction.

Who is affected by spinal cord injury?

Every year, nearly 5,500 American children under the age of 17 sustain trauma-related spinal cord injury. As a result, they experience weakness and changes in sensation, muscle tone, and function. Depending on their injury's severity, complications can include wounds, respiratory problems, difficulty urinating, bowel dysfunction, abnormalities in bone growth and formation, and scoliosis (curvature of the spine).

How is spinal cord injury diagnosed?

Our pediatric physiatrists conduct special testing in children to help determine the severity of the damage and how it will affect their ability to move and conduct daily self-care. We use this information to predict recovery and guide referrals to appropriate specialists.

What is the treatment for spinal cord injury?

With physical and occupational therapists, our pediatric physiatrists help families obtain wheelchairs and adaptive tools to improve children's mobility and foster independence.

We also work with families and caregivers to address bladder and bowel problems, develop evacuation routines, and prescribe medications that facilitate these functions. Our team helps to monitor children for complications associated with bladder retention and guides surveillance imaging to prevent kidney damage.

Addressing spasticity (increased muscle tone or tightness) is important in growing children because it can lead to abnormal bone positioning. We prescribe therapies and braces to prevent spasticity and ensure children maintain a range of motion.

Our specialists use injections and medications to relax muscles. Botulinum toxin injections and ethanol motor nerve blocks are shown to be safe and effective at improving muscle function in children with spasticity.

We also analyze gait and range of motion. We use this information to inject botulinum toxin and ethanol in a greater number of muscles and improve range of movement. Our pediatric physiatrists use ultrasound and nerve stimulator guidance to administer these injections.

For children with severe spasticity that needs more than injections, neurosurgeons can implant intrathecal baclofen pump to deliver medication close to the spinal cord. Our physiatrists collaborate with surgical teams when this is the best option to address abnormal bone growth and alignment.

Our pediatric physiatrists also assist families in obtaining the necessary services to help their children reintegrate into the community and transition to adulthood.