Spinal Cord Injury Frequently Asked Questions

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Will my child be OK after a spinal cord injury?

The prognosis for a child with a spinal cord injury hinges on his exact injury—where in the spine it occurs, how serious it is and the specific symptoms it causes.

As a general rule of thumb, if a child shows rapid progress after a SCI, he has a better chance of making a more complete recovery.

Your child’s doctor is the best source of information about his situation and long-term outlook. The most important thing you can do for your child is to seek prompt medical attention from a qualified professional.

How common are spinal cord injuries in children?

They are relatively rare, accounting for only 1 to 10 percent of all SCIs.

Can spinal cord injuries be prevented?

Unfortunately, there is no way to completely prevent a spinal cord injury: There is no equipment, device or safety gear that offers 100% protection.

However, there are several steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of your child suffering a spinal cord injury:

•   Promote a safe playing environment, both in general play and recreation and in competitive sports.
•   Always ensure that your child is wearing a seat belt, or properly secured in a car seat, whenever he is in the car.

Do I need to keep my child immobilized on the scene of his injury until help arrives?

Yes—this is very important.

It can be incredibly difficult for anyone witnessing a traumatic incident involving a child to resist the natural urge to intervene—either by picking up and cradling the child, or by otherwise moving him. However, keeping the injured child’s head and neck immobilized until medical help arrives is critical to avoid worsening the damage to his spinal cord.

Is there any hope that my child will regain any degree of lost function over time?

The answer really depends on how badly your child’s spinal cord is injured and where in her neck or back the injury occurs. Some children with more moderate SCIs do regain feeling and function as the spinal cord heals.

Is there a cure for spinal cord injuries?

Unfortunately, there is no cure at this time. However, Children’s researchers are hard at work in an effort to better understand the biological mechanisms involved in SCIs—and to discover how they might be reversed in the future, restoring partial or complete nerve and muscle functions. Learn more in our “Research and Innovation” section

Questions to ask your doctor

You and your family play an essential role in your child’s treatment for a spinal cord injury. It’s important that you share your observations and ideas with your child’s treating physician, and that you have all the information you need to fully understand the treatment team’s explanations and recommendations.

You’ve probably thought of many questions to ask about your child’s injury and outlook. It’s often very helpful to jot down your thoughts and questions ahead of time and bring them with you, along with a notebook, to your child’s appointment. That way, you’ll have all of your questions in front of you when you meet with your child’s treating clinician and can make notes to take home with you.

Some questions to ask your doctor might include:

•   Where in my child’s spine is the injury located?
•   Is the injury quadriplegic or paraplegic? Complete or incomplete?
•   Is there any chance that he will regain lost sensation/function?
•   Is surgery necessary?
•   What medications will he need?
•   Will he require a wheelchair or ventilator?
•   What is the long-term prognosis for my child?
•   How should I explain my child’s SCI to him? To friends, classmates and family members?
•   How will the injury affect my child’s home and school life?
•   What changes do I need to make to my child’s daily routines?
•   How can physical therapy, occupational therapy and counseling help my child and family?
•   What other resources can you point me to for more information? 
We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

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