The spinal cord is a cylinder-shaped bundle of tissues and nerves. It is protected by the hard bones of the spine. The spinal cords extends from the base of the brain to the lower part of the back or the sacrum. Together, the brain and the spinal cord make up the central nervous system, or CNS, which controls sensations and movements in almost all parts of the body.
What Is a Spinal Cord Injury?
A spinal cord injury occurs when the tissues and nerves that make up the spinal cord are compressed, twisted, cut or struck. How severe an injury depends on the area of the spinal cord that was damaged and on the type and extent of the injury. The worst type of injury is a complete injury, in which the person loses all feeling and movement below the area where the damage occurred. A person may also suffer an incomplete injury which means that some sensation and movement remains, even though the person may still exhibit serious deficits.
What Can Cause a Spinal Cord Injury?
Anything that harms the vertebrae – the bones that protect the cord, the discs or the ligaments of the spinal column or the cord itself can cause a spinal cord injury. The most common cause is motor vehicle accidents, which lead to about 35 percent of new spinal cord injuries each year. Falls, especially among senior citizens, account for another 25 percent of injuries. Other causes include violence such as gunshot wounds or stab wounds, sports injuries such as diving into shallow water and diseases such as cancer or severe arthritis.
What Are the Symptoms of Spinal Cord Injury?
Two of the chief symptoms of spinal cord injury are being unable to move the body below the level of the injury and being unable to feel anything such as cold or pain below the level of the injury. The injured person may lose bowel or bladder control. Another symptom is difficulty breathing which can occur if the chest muscles are paralyzed. The person may also experience a sharp or dull pain in the neck. Of course, not all neck pain indicates a spinal cord injury. Damage to the shoulder, the elbow or even the teeth can all cause neck pain.
When to Go to a Doctor for Spinal Cord Injury
One frightening aspect of spinal cord injuries is that symptoms do not always appear immediately after an injury. Moving around once an injury has occurred, though, can increase bleeding, swelling and inflammation and make the spinal cord injury even worse. Therefore, anyone who has suffered a trauma to the head or neck should seek immediate medical attention. The person should not try to get to the hospital in a private vehicle. Instead, he or she should have someone call an ambulance. Bystanders can use thick towels to keep the person’s head and neck immobilized until paramedics arrive.
Recovering from Spinal Cord Injury
People who experience a serious spinal cord injury may not make a complete recovery, though many of them are able to regain some function or sensation in the affected body parts. Someone with a complete spinal cord injury, for instance, will probably never walk again but may be able to learn to control an electric wheelchair. Care can be expensive and often involves a primary care physician, a radiologist, a neurologist or neurosurgeon and physical and occupational therapists. If the injury occurred due to someone else’s criminal actions or negligence, the injured person should contact a personal injury attorney to see if he or she can help recoup the cost of medical care and pain and suffering.