Spinal cord injuries typically occur when damage is caused to the spinal cord effectively blocking communication between the brain and the body. A spinal cord injury can affect a person’s sensory, motor and reflex messages which may not be able to get past the damage in the spinal cord. If the injury occurs higher on the spinal cord the more dysfunction a person will experience. Injuries can be either complete or incomplete based on whether any movement and sensation occurs at or below the level of injury. Spinal cord injuries generally result in a loss of function, such as mobility and/or feeling. Frequent causes of damage are trauma such as car accident, gunshot or a fall or it could be a disease such as polio, spina bifida, Friedreich’s ataxia, etc.
A spinal cord does not have to be severed for a loss of function to occur. In most people having spinal cord injury, the cord is intact but the damage to it results in loss of function. Spinal cord injury is very different from other back injuries such as ruptured disks, spinal stenosis or pinched nerves. A person can "break their back or neck" yet not sustain a spinal cord injury if only the bones around the spinal cord are damaged and the spinal cord is unaffected. The individual may not experience paralysis after the bones are stabilized in such a case. A spinal cord is 18 inches long and extends from the base of the brain, down the middle of the back to the waist. Nerves lying within the spinal cord are known as upper motor neurons which carry the messages back and forth from the brain to the spinal nerves along the spinal tract. The spinal nerves branching out from spinal cord to other parts of the body are called lower motor neurons.
Spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that carries nerve impulses to and from the brain to the rest of the body. The brain and the spinal cord constitute the central nervous system. The motor and sensory nerves outside the central nervous system constitute the peripheral nervous system. It is surrounded by rings of bone called vertebrae. These bones constitute the spinal column. The vertebrae are named according to their location. The cervical vertebra is the collective name of the 8 vertebra in the neck. They are named in the pattern as the vertebra at the top is called C-1, the next C-2, etc. Cervical spinal cord injuries may result in loss of function in the arms and legs or quadriplegia. The 12 vertebra in the chest are called the thoracic vertebra. The first thoracic vertebra, T-1, is the vertebra where the top rib attaches.
Effects Of a Spinal Cord Injury
The effects of a spinal cord injury depending on the type and level of the injury. Spinal cord injuries can be divided into two types of injury: complete and incomplete. When there is no function below the level of the injury or no sensation and no voluntary movement and both sides of the body are equally affected, that is known as a complete injury. An incomplete injury is when there is some function below the primary level of injury. A person with an incomplete injury may move one limb more than the other or may be able to feel some parts of the body or may have more functioning on one side of the body than the other. The level of injury helps in determining the parts of the body that might be affected by paralysis and loss of function. However, some variation in prognoses for incomplete injuries is always found.
Individuals with spinal cord injury also experience other changes besides the loss of sensation and function such as dysfunction of the bowel and bladder and they may also experience loss of many involuntary functions including the ability to breathe, necessitating breathing aids like mechanical ventilators or diaphragmatic pacemakers. A spinal cord injury may also cause low or irregular blood pressure, irregular body temperature and inability to sweat below the level of injury and chronic pain. Statistics show that there are about 12,000 new spinal cord injuries every year. The majority of victims are males between the ages of 16-30. The common causes are motor vehicle accidents, violence or falls. Quadriplegia has been found to be slightly more common than paraplegia in Spinal cord injury cases.
When spinal cord injuries occur there generally is swelling of the spinal cord which can cause changes in every system in the body. After a period of time has elapsed, the swelling begins to go down and people may regain some functions that they had lost. In many incomplete injuries the individual may recover some function as late as 18 months after the injury but in some rare cases, people with spinal cord injury regained functioning years after the injury. Only a very small fraction of individuals with spinal cord injury recover all function.
Oftentimes spinal cord injuries can cause a person to be wheelchair bound for a prolonged period of time. These injuries may require the individual to use a power wheelchair. People are also sometimes able to use braces and crutches for movement. People using braces may find that wheelchairs are more useful for longer distances. However, therapeutic and activity levels allowed by standing or walking may make braces a reasonable alternative. In olden times spinal cord injuries were mostly fatal as people dies died within weeks of their injury from urinary dysfunction, respiratory infection or bedsores. Besides the level of injury the type of rehabilitation used is the greatest indicator of long-term survival of a patient. Therefore it is common knowledge that spinal cord injuries are not something to be taken lightly.
These injuries are devastating in nature and for you or a loved one to deal with the burdens of mobility impairment, as well as the associated debilitating conditions is very difficult. It is important that victims of spinal cord injuries get adequately compensated for the wrongs done to them so that they can afford the help they need to ease the burden these injuries bring.