Nervous System

Spinal Cord

How is trauma to the spinal cord classified?

Reflex Description Disorder or Damage Indicated
Brudzinski’s reflex Forceful flexion of neck produces flexion of legs, thighs Reflex indicates irritation of meninges
Hoffmann’s reflex Flicking of index finger produces flexion in all fingers and thumb Reflex indicates damage to upper motor neuron of spinal cord
Kernig’s reflex Flexion of hip, with knee straight and patient lying back, produces flexion of knee Reflex indicates irritation of meninges or herniated intervertebral disc
Patellar reflex (knee jerk) Tapping of patellar tendon causes contraction of quadriceps fermoris muscle producing upward jerk of leg Absence of reflex may indicate damage at the L2, L3, L4 vertebral level; may also indicate chronic diabetes, syphilis
Romberg’s reflex Inability to maintain balance when standing with eyes closed Reflex indicates dorsal column injury
Triceps reflex Tapping of triceps tendon at elbow causes contraction of triceps muscle, producing extension at elbow Absence of reflex may indicate damage a C6, C7, C8 vertebral level

Injury to the spinal cord produces a period of sensory and motor paralysis termed spinal shock. The severity of the injury will determine how long the paralysis will last and whether there will be permanent damage.

Spinal concussion results in no visible damage to the spinal cord. The resulting spinal shock is temporary and may last for as short as a couple of hours.

Spinal contusion involves the white matter of the spinal cord being injured (bruised). Recovery is more gradual and may involve permanent damage.

Spinal laceration, caused by vertebral fragments or other foreign bodies penetrating the spinal cord, often requires a longer recovery and is less complete.

Spinal compression occurs when the spinal cord is squeezed or distorted within the vertebral canal. Relieving the pressure usually relieves the symptoms.

Spinal transection is the complete severing of the spinal cord. Surgical procedures cannot repair a severed spinal cord.


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