The ASIA Impairment Scale looks at motor and sensory function in an individual and how it has been impacted following a spinal cord injury.
Defining how a patient is affected can be used to better understand the injury they have sustained and help deliver the rehabilitation and support that will enable them to live their lives more fully.
The effective diagnosis of any spinal cord injury is vital. Not only does this help dictate what treatment is provided at the acute stage of the injury but it can also be used to assist the individual cope with their condition as they return home and begin rehabilitation.
In simple terms, an individual will be classed on the basis of where their injury occurs and whether it is incomplete or complete. The initial treatment of the acute phase is focused on preventing any further damage whilst also providing the necessary medical support to improve the prognosis of the patient.
The rehabilitation phase of recovery, however, also requires a much deeper understanding of the extent of an injury as this will be used to determine what help the individual will need.
Having a clear idea of the effect of a particular injury is important in deciding where rehabilitation techniques should focus on, what the prognosis is likely to be and what support the individual will need.
Defining spinal cord injuries has developed considerably since the 1970s when the first diagnostic tool was introduced, particularly with the development of the ASIA Impairment Scale. This comprehensive assessment is used to define sensory and motor function in an individual with a spinal cord injury.
Here we take a closer look at what how the ASIA Impairment Scale helps assess individuals and how it is used to provide the appropriate rehabilitation and support.
The ASIA (American Spinal Injury Association) Impairment Scale is used to describe an individual’s functional impairment that has occurred as a result of sustaining a spinal injury. It looks at a five-level scale to determine both sensory and motor function below the area of the injury.
An example of the checklist used by a medical professional when assessing a patient within the ASIA Impairment Scale guidelines can be viewed here.
Testing is fairly simple. For example, sensory impairment is tested through light touch and pin-prick methods and scored in comparison to sensation on the cheek area. The examination is carried out over 28 key sensory points both on the right and left side of the individual.
It is defined on a scale of 0 to 2:
Motor function testing is far more complicated and difficult to gauge, but diagnosing as clearly as possible is important for the rehabilitation process.
Normally, muscle function is scored on a scale from 0 to 5 for each of the areas investigated and a compiled score is obtained to define overall mobility.
Some cases are defined as ‘not testable’ and this could happen for a variety of reasons. For example, the patient may be in too much pain to contract a particular muscle or won’t be able to assess the amount of sensation.
The five different grades on the ASIA Impairment Scale are designed to give rehabilitation professionals a full understanding of their patient’s condition.
The key here is to define the individuals condition and how their spinal cord injury is likely to affect them in the future. It allows the rehabilitation team to put in place functional goals depending on the level of the patient’s spinal cord injury and the severity of their condition.
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