Marking Spinal Injuries Awareness Day

13 May 2024

On Spinal Injuries Awareness Day, Dan O’Keeffe considers the impact of a major spinal injury and the challenges people often face adapting to a new life. Dan is a Legal Director in the Serious Injury team, specialising in spinal injury cases, including cauda equina.

May 17 is Spinal Injuries Awareness Day. The aim of the day is to increase awareness and understanding of the impact and effect of spinal cord injuries.

When the spinal cord is damaged through illness or injury, it disrupts the messages to and from the brain, leading to a partial or full loss of function in parts of the body. Damage to the cervical spine (top of the spine) can lead to paralysis in the upper limbs, or even the person being unable to breath independently. However, damage to the sacral spine (at the bottom), can result in loss of bladder and bowel control and impact on someone’s ability to walk. An estimated 50,000 people in the UK are living with a spinal cord injury, with 2,500 people developing a spinal cord injury every year.

The spiralling effect of an injury

Having worked on many cases where a medical incident has either caused the spinal cord injury or caused a delay in detection or a failure to treat correctly, I have seen how a spinal cord injury can have a terrible impact on someone’s life, when the way they lived before the injury, is no longer possible. For instance, if someone is no longer able to work, it can negatively impact their self-image and self-worth, leading to anxiety and depression. It can also have a devastating impact on the family finances. It is important to appreciate that the injury can have a profound effect on a whole family, not just the person who sustains the injury.

If they cannot pay the mortgage or rent, then the family may have to move home and adapt to a radically different lifestyle. Similarly, if the non-injured partner has to go back to paid work or significantly increase their working hours, that can contribute to greater stress in the family and put a strain on relationships. An injured parent may no longer be able to lift their young children or play with them. They may no longer be able to drive to social events or even go to the local shop.

Sexual relationships with partners can often be impacted by a spinal injury. Sometimes there will be a physical injury preventing someone being able to perform or feel sensation, but changes in self-confidence following a significant injury, can also have a huge impact on the intimate relationship between a couple.

Lack of support

As a clinical negligence solicitor working with clients, one of my greatest frustrations is the difficulty people have in receiving specialist advice. Support on the NHS is at best patchy, with long waiting lists and specialist care often needing to be sought out, rather than being recommended by treating professionals. It is only after speaking with a relevant charity that many people become aware of, and get sign posted to, the services that can have a huge impact on their lives. This is particularly the case in the first few months following an injury, which are often the hardest time, as they are getting used to a radically different life.

Even when a patient receives specialist spinal Injury advice, often they do not get support in relation to the other ways the injury has impacted their life. For example, patients may struggle to get timely psychological support on the NHS, or appropriate bladder and bowel management advice, or perhaps prompt referral to a pain management centre, for their ongoing chronic pain.

However, where there are gaps in the support provided, there are charities that provide crucial support and information for patients. For instance, through their #ThisIsSeriousSh1t campaign, the Spinal Injuries Association is fighting to ensure everyone in hospital with a spinal injury is given the right bowel support.

Life after injury

It is important for people who have recently suffered an injury to know that whilst it may be life changing, it is not life ending. I have had the privilege of meeting so many inspiring people, who have not let their disability hold them back from achieving extraordinary things and living the most amazing lives. Whether that be running a successful business or travelling the world unaided. There are charities like BackUp Trust and the Spinal Injuries Association that can offer support, and it is important that patients are sign-posted to these charities and can speak with people who have been through the same experiences and have gone on to live a full and happy life, often achieving things they could not have imagined before their injury.

Transforming lives

One of the most rewarding aspects of being a clinical negligence solicitor, is when we get to see the difference our work can make to our clients’ lives. In a successful case we can obtain funding for aids and equipment or to purchase an adapted property, that allows easy use of a wheelchair throughout the home. Knowing they have the funding to cover the care and assistance they will need for the rest of their life can be the biggest weight off a client’s mind. All these things help give the client back their autonomy and dignity and can give them the confidence to live their life to the full.

At Shoosmiths we have a team of specialist lawyers with extensive experience in representing people who have suffered a spinal cord injury. We are passionate about fighting for our clients and providing a bespoke service for their individual needs.



This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024

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