What Are Common Spinal Stroke Symptoms?

Article by Moody Neuro

Your spine has plenty of nerves essential for transporting signals from your brain to the rest of your body. These are vital for voluntary and involuntary movement, such as moving your limbs or ensuring your digestive organs function normally. 

However, when blood flow to your spine is blocked, it can deprive your spine of oxygen and other nutrients transported by your blood. This can lead to a spinal stroke, which can have long-term effects on your physical and cognitive functioning.

What Is a Spinal Stroke?

Also known as a spinal cord infarction or spinal cord ischemia, a spinal stroke occurs when the blood flow to the spinal cord is disrupted. This causes tissue damage and spinal cord function impairment, among other spinal stroke symptoms. 

When blood flow to the spinal cord is reduced due to a clot or a bleed, it can damage or kill spinal tissue and cells in the affected area. This damage can lead to various issues with your physical and cognitive ability, including a loss of sensation, muscle strength, and reduced mobility below the level of the injury.

Spinal strokes are rare, especially compared to strokes in the brain. When left untreated, it could lead to a potentially life-threatening condition or long-term health issues. If you spot the symptoms of a spinal stroke on yourself or a loved one, you should seek immediate medical attention.

Common Spinal Stroke Symptoms

Symptoms can vary among patients depending on the cause of the stroke and which part of the spine was affected. These symptoms can develop within minutes or a few hours after a stroke occurs and worsen as time passes. 

Some spinal stroke symptoms include:

  • Severe, unexplained pain in the neck, arms, and back – patients may feel a sharp pain or burning sensation in these areas
  • Muscle weakness in the limbs, especially in the legs 
  • Muscle spasms
  • Numbness, tingling sensations, or general loss of sensation
  • Inability to feel hot and cold temperatures
  • Tightness, chest pains, and difficulty breathing
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Partial or full paralysis 

Some of these symptoms are similar to a brain stroke. However, patients experiencing a brain stroke can have symptoms such as issues with their speech, vision, and cognitive function. This can involve different treatments and recovery processes

Possible Causes of a Spinal Stroke

Spinal strokes can be caused by various factors that hinder blood supply to the spinal cord. The severity of the stroke depends on the extent of the damage to the spinal cord and the specific area affected. These include:

  • Blood Clots: This is generally due to atherosclerosis, a build-up of plaque that narrows blood vessels, though other factors can also lead to narrow vessels.
  • Injuries: Traumatic injuries to your back can affect blood vessels and cause a spinal stroke. Injuries like a gunshot wound can cause heavy bleeding that can lead to a spinal stroke.
  • Diseases and Infections: Spinal tuberculosis and other bacterial infections around the spinal cord can affect blood flow and develop abscesses.
  • Aging: Older adults can develop herniated discs. They are also prone to atherosclerosis and have narrow or weaker blood vessels.
  • Growths: Tumors, vascular malformations, and other growths causing spinal cord compression could affect a blood vessel.
  • Surgery: In rare cases, patients who have undergone abdominal or heart surgery can develop complications that lead to a spinal stroke. 

In some cases, it’s unknown why a patient suffered a spinal stroke. 

Who Is at Risk of a Spinal Stroke?

 It’s estimated that spinal strokes account for 0.3 to 1.2% of all strokes worldwide. Most adult cases of spinal strokes occur when the shape of the blood vessels changes. 

Those with narrow and weaker blood vessels have a higher risk, which includes those who have the following:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels 
  • Cardiovascular conditions, such as heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Senior patients
  • Patients who have sedentary lifestyles
  • Patients who smoke and consume alcohol excessively 

Adult patients may also develop a spinal stroke from injuries, infections, or complications from surgery. A study published in 2016 found that patients who were younger, male, and had hypertension, diabetes, or high blood sugar levels were more likely to develop more severe spinal strokes. 

Spinal stroke cases are exceedingly rare among children, though they can develop from spinal injuries or congenital conditions that affect their blood vessels or blood clotting. 

Children are more at risk of developing a spinal stroke if they are born with:

  • Cavernous malformations
  • Arteriovenous malformations in the brain and spinal cord
  • Moyamoya disease
  • Vasculitis
  • Blood clotting disorders
  • Bacterial infections
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Other diseases and conditions that require heart surgery

Diagnosis and Treatment

Those who have symptoms of a spinal stroke should seek emergency medical attention. An emergency room doctor or neurologist can diagnose a spinal stroke. Some tests needed to diagnose your condition include an interview, imaging, blood tests, and other tests to rule out other possible causes for your symptoms. 

Treatment can vary for each patient, depending on the severity of their symptoms, the cause, and the potential long-term damage from the stroke. These include:

  • Medication: Patients can be given thinners to clear blood clots and reduce the risk of reforming clots. Some medicines can treat the muscles or bladder control, while others reduce blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • Surgery: Stroke patients who have developed blood clots may require a thrombectomy. Doctors will either remove the affected blood clot from the vessel or widen the vessel to allow blood flow. 

Recovery, Prognosis, and Outlook

While spinal strokes are rare, they can be dangerous, especially if left untreated. The American Heart Association estimates that while up to 40% of patients recover after three or four years, up to 25% of patients pass away from severe complications stemming from their stroke. 

A 2016 study published in European Neurology found that patients who recovered from their spinal strokes had a better outlook on long-term mortality compared to those who recovered from brain strokes. 

Depending on the severity of your stroke, you may experience long-term or permanent side effects, which can include:

  • Partial or full paralysis
  • Chronic muscle weakness
  • Incontinence
  • Chronic joint pain
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty moving your arms and legs

Those who recover may require lifestyle changes, such as using walking aids and other assistive devices, to manage their day-to-day tasks. For instance, patients who develop incontinence may need a catheter to handle their urine. Other patients may require physical or occupational therapy to recover from their muscle weakness or improve mobility. 

How Can You Assist a Loved One Recovering From Spinal Stroke Symptoms?

Most patients have a good chance of recovery, especially if they seek immediate medical attention and have a proper recovery treatment plan. After being discharged from the hospital, your loved one may require assistance with everyday tasks. If they need assistive devices, there will be an adjustment period where they relearn how to perform daily tasks while adapting to their condition.

Giving your loved one access to quality physical and occupational therapy can help them recover some of their mobility. Some patients may also benefit from alternative rehabilitation therapy, such as aquatic therapy, to rehabilitate their mobility. 

Personalized Patient Care at Moody Neurorehabilitation 

Recognizing common spinal stroke symptoms can significantly improve the chances of timely diagnosis and immediate medical intervention. Remember that spinal strokes are relatively rare, but they can have severe life-long consequences if not addressed immediately. It is essential to remain vigilant and seek medical attention promptly if you or a loved one experiences these symptoms. 

Moody Neurorehabilitation has been providing highly specialized, personalized care to individuals seeking to recover from a stroke. Our well-maintained facilities and team of dedicated staff can cater to your specific needs as you work towards your breakthrough. 

Contact us today to arrange a consultation with our experts.



Strokes are medical conditions that affect millions globally. In the United States, more than 795,000 people have a stroke each year, with about 610,000 cases being first or new strokes. 

These can lead to a wide range of physical and cognitive impairments. Speech and language disorders are among the most common and most challenging consequences of strokes, occurring in about a third of stroke survivors. 

Understanding Stroke-Induced Speech & Language Disorders

Stroke-induced speech and language disorders significantly impact communication abilities. Among these, aphasia, dysarthria, and apraxia of speech are prevalent. Understanding how they are diagnosed and their specific symptoms can aid in prompt and effective management.


Aphasia is a common outcome of stroke, manifesting as difficulty in speaking, understanding, reading, and writing. There are many different types of aphasia, depending on the affected brain area, and are categorized based on the symptoms present:

  • Expressive Aphasia (Broca’s Aphasia): Characterized by broken speech, limited vocabulary, and difficulty forming complete sentences. Patients often understand what is being said to them but struggle to verbalize responses.
  • Receptive Aphasia (Wernicke’s Aphasia): Patients can produce fluent speech but may lack meaning or include nonsensical words. They often have significant difficulty understanding spoken language.
  • Global Aphasia: A severe form of aphasia where individuals have extensive difficulties with both speech production and comprehension.
  • Anomic Aphasia: Individuals have difficulty finding words, particularly nouns and verbs, making their speech sound vague.


Dysarthria is a speech disorder that affects 20-30% of stroke survivors. It occurs when stroke impacts the muscles responsible for speech, leading to slurred or slow speech that can be hard to understand. It is typically diagnosed through a physical examination and a series of speech evaluations conducted by a speech-language pathologist (SLP). 

It is characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Slurred or slow speech that can be difficult to understand
  • Monotone or robotic-sounding speech
  • Difficulty controlling the volume of speech, which may be too loud or too soft
  • Challenges with the rhythm and flow of speech, including rapid speech that’s hard to interrupt or slow, drawn-out speech
  • Respiratory issues affecting the ability to speak loudly or for extended periods

Apraxia of Speech (AOS)

Apraxia of speech is a neurological disorder characterized by difficulty sequencing the movements needed for speech. This is caused by the impact of the stroke on the brain’s pathways involved in producing speech. 

Patients with AOS know what they want to say but struggle to coordinate the muscle movements to articulate words correctly. This results in distorted speech, difficulty initiating speech, or the inability to accurately produce speech sounds or sequences of sounds. 

How Long Is the Stroke Speech & Language Recovery Time?

According to one study on post-stroke speech and language therapy, approximately one-third of stroke patients experience speech problems after a stroke. Many of these individuals begin to recover within a few months, with significant progress typically observed within three to six months.

In another study, 62% of subjects had speech challenges after suffering from a stroke. By six months post-stroke, 74% were able to completely recover their communication abilities. 

However, the figures above provide a general timeline for post-stroke speech and language recovery. Stroke speech recovery time is highly individualized and can vary depending on several factors. These can include the following:

  • Severity of the Stroke: More severe strokes often lead to extensive brain damage, resulting in longer and more challenging recovery periods for speech.
  • Location of the Brain Injury: The brain’s specific regions control different speech and language functions; damage to these areas directly impacts recovery complexity and duration.
  • Age and Overall Health of the Patient: Generally, younger patients with better overall health before the stroke tend to experience faster and more complete recoveries.
  • Pre-existing Conditions and Comorbidities: Conditions such as diabetes or hypertension can slow down recovery by complicating the overall health scenario and rehabilitation process.
  • Individual Variability and Resilience: Personal resilience, the support system’s strength, and the individual’s motivation significantly influence the pace and success of speech recovery efforts.

The first three months after a stroke is a crucial period for recovery, as a majority of stroke patients see the most significant improvement during this period. However, it’s also important to note that, although at a slower pace, recovery can continue well past the 6-month mark with continued therapy and practice. 

This underpins the importance of early intervention and ongoing rehabilitation efforts, including speech therapy, to maximize each patient’s recovery potential. 

What Does the Stroke Speech & Language Recovery Process Look Like?

The journey to regain speech and language after a stroke is multifaceted and varies significantly from one individual to another. Understanding the structured phases of recovery can provide insight into what patients and their families can expect during this challenging time. 

Here’s a closer examination of each phase in the stroke speech recovery process.

Initial Assessment and Diagnosis

Before recovery can begin, a thorough evaluation is conducted by a team of healthcare professionals led by an SLP. This assessment aims to identify the type and severity of the speech and language disorder, be it aphasia, dysarthria, or AOS. The evaluation may include cognitive-linguistic assessments, comprehension tests, speech production analysis, and functional communication measures. 

Based on this assessment, a personalized therapy plan is crafted to address the patient’s specific needs.

Acute Phase

The acute phase typically occurs within the first days to weeks following a stroke. During this period, medical stabilization is the primary focus, with healthcare teams working to manage the immediate effects of the stroke. 

Speech therapy may begin with simple exercises or assessments to gauge the patient’s abilities. However, intensive therapy usually does not start until the patient is medically stable. During the acute phase, the goal is to support overall recovery and prevent complications immediately after the stroke.

Subacute Phase

The subacute phase generally spans from two weeks to three months post-stroke and is characterized by more intensive speech therapy interventions. As the patient’s medical condition stabilizes, the focus shifts to active rehabilitation. Therapy during this phase is tailored to the individual’s specific speech and language deficits and may include:

  • Exercises to improve articulation, fluency, and voice control for those with dysarthria.
  • Language therapy to enhance understanding, speaking, reading, and writing skills in patients with aphasia.
  • Motor speech exercises and strategies to improve speech planning and production in apraxia of speech.

The subacute phase is crucial for taking advantage of the brain’s natural recovery processes and neuroplasticity, where the brain begins reorganizing and adapting to the loss of function.

Chronic Phase

The chronic phase of recovery extends from several months to years after the stroke. It focuses on long-term rehabilitation and adjustment to any residual speech deficits. During this time, patients may continue to see gradual improvements in their speech and language abilities, although the rate of recovery may slow. Therapy in the chronic phase often includes:

  • Advanced communication strategies to cope with ongoing challenges in daily life.
  • Maintenance exercises to preserve and enhance speech gains achieved in earlier phases.
  • Supportive technologies and aids, such as communication devices, to assist in effective communication.
  • Community reintegration activities to help patients return to as normal a life as possible, engaging in social, vocational, or recreational activities.

What Is the Role of Neuroplasticity in Speech & Language Recovery?

Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s fundamental property to change and adapt its responses to new experiences, learning, and environmental changes. This adaptive capacity enables the brain to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections.

When the brain, or a part of the brain, is damaged after a stroke, neuroplasticity is what allows the other parts of the brain to take over the functions of the damaged area. Through targeted rehabilitation and therapy, such as speech therapy for stroke survivors, patients can retrain other brain areas to perform the lost functions and facilitate recovery.

Enhancing Stroke Speech & Language Recovery Time

Adopting a comprehensive approach involving several key strategies is vital to enhance the stroke speech and language recovery time. This multifaceted approach can maximize the chances of regaining speech and communication abilities.

This comprehensive approach must incorporate the following strategies:

  • Early intervention to leverage the brain’s highest potential for neuroplasticity in the initial period following a stroke, significantly improving the chances for recovery.
  • Alternative communication strategies, such as gestures, writing, and visual aids, to help maintain communication during the recovery process. 
  • Adopting technology, including speech-generating devices and software applications designed for speech rehabilitation, for personalized exercises and continuous practice, which is vital for progress.
  • Providing continuous support from psychologists, support groups, and therapy to help manage feelings of frustration, depression, and anxiety, fostering a positive mindset essential for rehabilitation.
  • A healthy diet and lifestyle to supply essential nutrients that support brain function, along with regular physical activity, adequate sleep, and management of medical conditions.

Begin Your Post-Stroke Recovery Journey With Moody Neurorehabilitation

Moody Neurorehabilitation understands the complexities and challenges that come with post-stroke rehabilitation. We are dedicated to supporting patients and their families through this critical time with specialized care and personalized treatment plans.

Since our inception in 1982, Moody Neurorehabilitation has been a leader in brain injury rehabilitation. Our approach centers on providing comprehensive care tailored to each patient’s needs and goals. We believe in treating the whole person, not just the symptoms, to improve overall quality of life.

We invite you to start your recovery journey with us. Contact Moody Neurorehabilitation today to schedule a consultation with our experts. Let us help you navigate the path to recovery with care, compassion, and expertise.