The spinal cord is ofen mistaken for the bones which make up the spine. When injury occurs to the spinal cord, the effects can be devistating
A spinal cord injury is when damage to the spinal cord has a occurred, resulting in loss of feeling, mobility and other functions. The cause us typically by injury such as in an accident or due to medical reasons or disease such as polio, spina bifida, among others. The spinal cord does not have to be severed in order for the damage and effects of that damage to occur.
The spinal cord is often misunderstood by laymen. The vertebra in the back, the spine, is a group of bones. The complex nerves that run through the vertebra is the spinal cord, which is part of the central nervous system. Each of these nerves sends the messages to our brains which results in movment, breathing, and other bodily functions. The effects of a spinal cord injury will vary, depending on the location, as well as the severity of the injury.
Cervical: The cervical spine consists of 7 vertebra (C1-C7).
There is usually more loss of function, the higher the injury occurs. When injury occurs in the C1-C2 vertebra, the loss of function causes quadriplegia, which is loss of function in both arms and legs.
- C1-C4 controls the diaphragm which is needed for breathing, head and neck, as well as cranial nerves When injury occurs in this area, the victim may end up with what is called a paralyzed diaphragm (both left and right side of the diaphragm), or paralyzed hem-diaphram which is either the left side of right side of the diaphragm is effected. In many instances, mechanical life support is required which may be temporary or permanent. In some cases, a diaphragm pacemaker may be considered and then implanted surgically.
- C5-C8 controls the various muscles of the arms. Depending on the exact location and the extent of the spinal cord damage, the results may be weakness in the arms, wrists and hands to total loss of movement in one area but not all. For instance one may be able to move their fingers, yet not be able to move their wrist.
Thoracic: The thoracic spine is located in the chest area, consisting of 12 vertebra (T1-T12). Injury in this area may cause loss of function in the chest area, including the arms that may result in paraplegia. These nerves affect the trunk area, especially the abdominal and trunk muscles. These muscles are important because they enable us to sit up without assistance.
Lumbar: The lumber spine or lower back region consists of 5 vertebra (L1-L5). When injury occurs here, the hips and legs may be affected resulting in some degree of function, including total loss of function and sensation.
The sacrum consists of 5 vertebra that are fused together which control bowl, bladder and sexual function. Those who suffer may not be able to empty their bowel or bladder on their own, or may lack any control at all.
Spinal cord or SCI injuries affect more than body movement. Those affected may not be able to control their blood pressure, or body temperature. Some may have the inability to perspire in areas that are below the spinal cord injury. Others may suffer from chronic pain for which there is little if any relief.
SCI is difficult to understand. For instance, if the injury occurs in the lower portion of the cervical spine and the upper portion of the thoracic spine, the effects and the severity may differ than if the injury occurred in only one area.
Other conditions occur as the result of spinal cord injuries. When movement is restricted, there is often an increase in risk for bedsores, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, constipation which may lead to a bowel obstruction, all which may become life threatening. Autonomic Dysreflexia, is another condition which is difficult to understand, but it is also life threatening. Although, most of us are use to seeing those who may be wheelchair bound, the problems go beyond the injury and disability that is seen by the naked eye. Those who have a loss of sensation could easily drop a cup of coffee on themselves, seriously burning themselves and not being able to feel the hot temperature of the coffee. Not only are spinal cord injuries serious, the medical and physical problems they cause are often much worse and life threatening.