Tending to his much-loved garden one winter’s morning, Michael Pell experienced a sudden, excruciating back pain, which left his legs feeling dead.
The pain came on suddenly and, initially, Michael, from Dartmoor, Devon, thought one of the deer that roam the remote area had kicked him.
“It was like nothing I’d ever felt before,” says Michael, 69, a retired hairdresser. “I noticed I had no sensation from my lower back to my knees. When I realized it wasn’t an animal, I thought it might be severe cramp, as I’d been working outside for four hours, mostly on my knees. I crawled 100 yards to our back door. I then pulled myself half up, but still had no feeling in the top half of my legs. My wife, Penny, had to help me to sit down. Although my feet and ankles worked, I had no control over my lower legs. I also had a burning sensation around my buttocks and down most of my legs.”
What Michael had suffered that day in January 2012 was a stroke, not to his brain, as usually happens, but his spine.
Normally, a stroke is caused either by a blockage to the blood supply to the brain, or a bleed from a weakened blood vessel supplying the brain. With a spinal stroke, the same principles apply, but the blockage or bleed affects the spinal cord.
Stretching from the base of the brain to the small of the back, the spinal cord is a key part of the body’s central nervous system, which transmits instructions from the brain to the rest of the body.
Like the brain, the cord needs a constant blood supply to provide oxygen and nutrients. if it is halted, the nerves quickly become damaged and some die. As a result, these stop sending messages from the brain to the muscles – which muscles this affects depends on where the stroke occurs.
If a person has a stroke around the mid-section of their spinal cord, they may suffer paralysis in their legs, but everything above this will be unaffected. But a stroke around the neck section of the spinal cord could affect the muscles in the arms.
The most common cause of spinal strokes, as with brain strokes, is a build-up of cholesterol plaque in an artery wall, which then blocks it. Alternatively, small vessels supplying the spine rupture, due to abnormalities of the vessel walls or malformations of the vessels, says Tony Rudd, professor of stroke medicine at London’s King’s College Hospital.
Some patients have a spinal stroke during surgery, for example, while treating an aneurysm, a bulge in a blood vessel, especially if it’s in the aorta in the abdomen. A stent, or hollow tube, is usually inserted into the aorta to strengthen its wall. This temporarily blocks blood flow to the spine, so the risk of a spinal stroke increases.
Source: www.DailyMail.co.uk; September 23, 2014.