A Quick Guide To Spinal Cord Injuries

There is nothing quite as scary as finding out that you’ve injured your spinal cord. After all, the spinal cord is what gives your body the support it needs to survive. It’s a set of nerves that connects your brain to your body, allowing for movement. Understanding the spinal cord and what may happen when it’s injured is important and may help you to protect yourself in the future.

What Is an Injury to the Spinal Cord?

A spinal cord injury, which is often abbreviated as SCI, occurs when the nerves that communicate with the brain are damaged. An SCI can occur either due to the tissue and bones around the area being damaged or because the cord itself is damaged. SCIs may cause either temporary or permanent changes to the functions of the body, including movement, sensation, and strength. 

What Kind of Damage Does an Injury to the Spinal Cord Cause?

The type of damage that occurs because of an SCI depends on where the spinal cord is damaged and the extent of the injury. If the injury is high on the spinal cord, it can cause paralysis in most of the body, which is known as quadriplegia or tetraplegia. However, if the injury is lower on the cord, it may cause paraplegia, which is paralysis in the legs and lower body.

What Are the Symptoms of an Injury to the Spinal Cord?

There are several symptoms that may occur if you’ve damaged your spinal cord. They include numbness or tingling in the hands and feet; pain or pressure in the neck, back, and head; paralysis that may occur immediately or over time, and loss of movement. Other symptoms that you may notice include weakness in the body, loss of bladder or bowel control, difficulty breathing, changes in sexual function, problems walking, and unnatural positions of the head or spine. 

What Are the Types of Injuries to the Spinal Cord?

There are two main types of SCIs: incomplete and complete. Incomplete injuries mean the spinal cord can still send some messages to the brain. People with this type of injury may still have some sensory function and some control over their body’s muscles below the site of the injury. A complete injury means that the brain cannot communicate with the nerves below the site of the injury and has no sensory or motor function.

Injuries may also be primary or secondary. A primary injury means the damage occurs right away and is caused by the injury directly. A secondary injury means that inflammation and swelling is pressing on the vertebrae and spinal cord. These injuries can cause some changes in cell death and the activity of the cells in the body. 

What Are the Levels of Injuries to the Spinal Cord?

There are four different sections of the spinal cord that can be impacted by an injury. They include the cervical, lumbar, thoracic, and sacral sections. Each section protects a different group of nerves. The severity of an SCI depends on which section of the spine is injured. 

  • Cervical SCI – Injuries to the cervical spinal cord can affect the head and neck. They are the most severe type of SCI.
  • Lumbar SCI – SCIs to the lumbar section of the spinal cord affect the hips and legs. People who receive this injury may need to walk with braces or be confined to a wheelchair.
  • Thoracic SCI – If the thoracic spinal cord is injured, it affects the abdominal muscles, upper chest, and mid-back. Typically, people with this injury can maintain arm and hand function.
  • Sacral SCI – The sacral section of the spinal cord affects the hips, buttocks, pelvic organs, and back of the thighs. People who have this injury are still likely to be able to walk. 

If you think that you have injured your spinal cord, even minorly, it is important to talk to a doctor as soon as possible. Your medical professional can help you determine if you’ve received an injury and what course of action to take moving forward. 

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