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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Spinal cord contusions are a serious injury.

“When you have inflammation and bruising to the spinal cord, that can be a devastating problem for people’s function,” says Dr. Todd Franco, a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation specialist at Allegheny Health Network.

When there is extreme bending of the spine forward or backward, the spinal cord can get pinched. The signals between the brain and the body are interrupted. So you can have numbess and weakness and paralysis below the level of the injury.

“The spinal cord basically runs from the brain all the way down to the mid-portion of the low back, and as a result, anywhere that spinal cord gets compressed, it can be injured,” explains Dr. Franco.

He shows what a spinal cord contusion looks like on MRI scan.

“This black structure running down the neck here is the spinal cord, and as the arrow so nicely points out, this little white spot right in the middle of that cord, is essentially a contusion or bruise to the spinal cord.”

“When you think about spinal cord injury, it’s a spectrum. Spinal cord concussion is a little milder with a quicker return of function. A spinal cord contusion indicates some degree of bruising of swelling. Both involve the same mechanics, and when it comes down to it, the nerves are injured,” says KDKA Health Editor, Dr. Maria Simbra.

When taking care of patients with kind of trauma, the doctors watch for function to return as the swelling goes down. Sometimes certain steroids can reduce the inflammation.

Symptoms can improve in a matter of hours or weeks. And you may not know for weeks what the full and permanent extent of the injury is. Rehab is needed for more severe cases — that would be physical therapy and occupational therapy over a course of weeks.