We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a Spinal Cord Stroke?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Feb 02, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGeek is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGeek, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

A spinal cord stroke is a sudden, often severe physical reaction to obstructed blood flow in the spine. If the main spinal artery or one of the smaller blood vessels in the spine is blocked, blood cannot reach the delicate nerve structures in the cord. The result is usually immediate radiating pain and weakness, followed shortly by lack of muscle control in the limbs and possibly paralysis. Many strokes in the spinal cord are reversible with prompt medical care and ongoing physical therapy. If a major blockage occurs, however, a person may have lifelong difficulties despite all treatment efforts.

Many different conditions can precede a spinal cord stroke. People who have atherosclerosis, a buildup of cholesterol plaques in their arteries, are at the highest risk of suffering strokes. The spinal artery or the aorta that feeds it can become dangerously narrow as plaques amass along the interior walls. Total blockages can occur when cholesterol deposits break free and become lodged in smaller blood vessels in the spine.

Other potential causes of spinal cord stroke include chronic diseases, acute infections, and injuries that cause damage to spinal blood vessels. Autoimmune conditions such as lupus may damage an artery to the point that it ruptures and hemorrhages. Syphilis infections and diabetes can also impair blood vessel functioning. Injuries associated with major spine trauma and complications of spinal surgery may occasionally result in a stroke as well. In some cases, an underlying cause is never discovered.

When a spinal cord stroke occurs, a person typically feels immediate, severe pain and tightness in his or her back. Burning and tingling sensations may radiate down the spine and into the legs. After a few minutes or hours, a person can lose all sensation and muscle control in the legs and lower torso. Bowel and bladder control also are often compromised. If the arterial blockage occurs near the top of the spinal cord, the arms may be affected as well.

Emergency medical care should be sought at the first signs of a possible spinal cord stroke. A team of doctors can assess the severity of the situation and look for an underlying cause by taking imaging scans of the spine, performing blood work, and asking about the onset of symptoms. Magnetic resonance imaging scans are usually effective at pinpointing the site of blood vessel damage or blockage. Electromyography tests are also conducted to identify the extent of nerve involvement.

In most cases, it is not possible to repair severely damaged arteries and nerves around the spinal cord. Treatment efforts generally are focused on improving blood flow and eliminating the underlying cause if possible. Patients may be given aspirin and other blood thinners as well as drugs to combat infections or pain. Some patients who suffer spinal cord strokes regain sensations spontaneously, while others require several months or years of physical therapy to overcome lingering muscle control problems.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Link to Sources
Discussion Comments
By Logicfest — On Mar 03, 2014

Ever run across anyone with a severe spinal cord stroke? Knew a guy who had to completely relearn how to work following one of these because he lost some control over the muscles in his legs. Serious stuff.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.