Most people associate spinal cord injuries with some amount of paralysis. While paralysis is one possible symptom of this type of injury, it is not the only symptom. Someone who has an injured spinal cord may experience altered sensations, spasms, loss of bladder control, loss of bowel control, difficulty breathing or other symptoms.

However, the range of possible symptoms are not the only aspect of this injury that is commonly misunderstood. Many people don’t realize that sometimes a spinal cord injury may not show any symptoms at all until some time has passed.

Why might symptoms develop slowly?

Someone who develops symptoms immediately may recognize that they likely have an injured spinal cord. However, it may not be obvious that someone has a spinal cord injury if their sometimes symptoms appear at a delay.

Symptoms can develop slowly over time as bleeding or swelling occur in the injured area. They can also develop if the injured person moves or is moved and that activity makes the injury more severe.

What role does adrenaline play?

Symptoms may also appear as someone’s adrenaline rush wears off. Experiencing a traumatic event almost always results in a surge of “flight-or-fight” hormones in the body.

When the body releases a large amount of adrenaline, someone’s heart rate and breathing may become more rapid, they may feel jittery, they may have increased strength and they may have a decreased ability to feel pain. These and other effects can last up to an hour after being initially triggered, but as they wear off, someone may begin to recognize the symptoms caused by their injury.

Why are delayed symptoms risky?

One of the main problems with delayed awareness of an injury is that it can result in the injury becoming worse. Generally, someone who has experienced trauma to the neck or back should not be moved, except by trained professionals. Movement can make the injury much more severe.

Another big problem that can result from delayed awareness is that it can increase the amount of time between the trauma and the treatment. Usually, it is best to have a spinal cord injury treated as soon as possible. Immediate medical treatment can help reduce the severity of the injury and the severity of potential complications.

Because of these risks, anytime someone experiences trauma to the head, neck or back, he or she should remain still and seek emergency care. It is usually safest to assume that a trauma victim has a spinal cord injury until a medical evaluation determines otherwise.