A spinal cord injury will leave you with permanent paralysis and loss of sensation. The extent of your symptoms will depend on the location and severity of your injury. Quadriplegia and paraplegia are examples of spinal cord injuries.
As a result of these catastrophic losses of function, you will probably suffer from permanent disabilities. You may need to change jobs or retire from working. You will likely face a lifetime of physical and occupational therapy to help you develop the strength and skills to cope with your injuries.
Your nervous system contains two parts. The peripheral nervous system (PNS) includes the nerves that run to individual muscles, organs, and nerve endings. These nerves control movement and detect touch sensations.
The central nervous system (CNS) contains the brain and the 62 major nerves that connect the brain to your body. These 62 nerves form the spinal cord. The CNS serves as the nervous system’s communication and control center.
The brain creates signals that control voluntary movements of your limbs and body. They also control involuntary systems responsible for circulating blood, digesting food, and regulating body temperature.
Your brain also receives and interprets sensory signals. These sensations come from your sense organs, including your eyes, nose, tongue, ears, and skin. Of these, only touch sensations travel along the spinal cord.
The spinal cord travels through the spinal canal formed within the spine. In addition to the protection provided by the vertebrae, tough membranes, called meninges, wrap around the spinal cord.
The 62 nerves of the spinal cord are divided into 31 pairs. Each pair includes one nerve to control your right side and one to control your left side. A pair of nerves exit the spinal canal at each vertebra. Each nerve in the pair branches into a nerve root that carries nerve signals to and from a body region.
You have eight cervical spinal nerve pairs that exit your spine in your neck. These nerves control your upper limbs and chest.
Another twelve thoracic spinal nerve pairs exit your spine in your chest. These control the movement of your chest and abdomen. They also help you maintain your balance.
Five lumbar spinal nerve pairs exit your spine in your lower back. These nerves carry signals to and from your hips and legs.
Spinal cord injuries occur when something severs some or all of the spinal nerves. A severed nerve cannot carry nerve signals. As a result, the control signals traveling from the brain and the sensory signals traveling from the body never reach their destinations.
Spinal nerves can be severed by a foreign object. For example, in an assault, bullet fragments can tear through the meninges and cut the spinal nerves. Similarly, an object, such as a piece of rebar, could pierce the spinal canal during a fall in a construction accident.
Your own vertebrae can also sever the spinal nerves. A broken back consists of one or more fractured vertebrae. A fractured vertebra can dislocate or break apart. The loose pieces of bone can push into the spinal canal and cut the spinal nerves.
A fractured vertebra can occur in almost any accident involving back or neck trauma. Car accidents place enormous stress on your neck as your head whips back and forth. This stress can compress and crack a cervical vertebra.
A high fall or slip and fall can also fracture a vertebra. The impact on the ground can break the body of a vertebra or snap off a vertebral process. Either type of fracture can cause a vertebra to slip out of place and into the spinal canal.
Spinal cord injuries are classified in two ways. The classification determines which areas of the body are affected by the injury. They also determine the effects of the injury in those areas.
Injury severity refers to the completeness of the injury. The spinal cord is not a single nerve. Instead, it includes several smaller nerves. When you suffer a spinal cord injury, one or more nerves are severed.
Incomplete injuries involve fewer than all of the nerves of the spinal cord. For example, a fractured thoracic vertebra could sever three of the eighteen pairs passing through it. The symptoms would depend on the roles played by those three pairs of nerves.
These injuries can produce paralysis. But they can also produce weakness, loss of dexterity, and numbness without causing paralysis.
Occasionally, you can regain some function in the affected areas due to neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to rewire itself to use the uninjured nerves to control some areas affected by the damaged nerves.
Complete injuries involve all of the spinal nerves. These catastrophic injuries produce total and permanent paralysis and loss of sensation below the injury.
The injury level will determine the areas affected by a spinal cord injury. All of your spinal nerves exit your skull at the top of the spine. A spinal cord injury at this level will result in death due to paralysis of the muscles responsible for respiration.
A spinal cord injury further down the cervical spine will produce quadriplegia. Also known as tetraplegia, this injury affects all four limbs, chest, and abdomen.
A spinal cord injury in the thoracic or lumbar spine will produce paraplegia. These spinal cord injuries affect the abdomen, hips, and legs.
Spinal cord injuries come with a high cost. Although doctors cannot repair a severed spinal cord, you may benefit from physical therapy. If you suffered an incomplete injury, therapy could help you regain your ability to control some of your muscles. But even if you retain some function, you may need a caretaker for the rest of your life.
Spinal cord injuries can also disable you from working. As a result, you may lack the financial resources to pay for therapy and even living expenses.
If your spinal cord injury resulted from someone else’s actions, you have the right to pursue a claim for personal injury compensation. Contact Oresky & Associates, PLLC to discuss your injuries and the compensation you can recover.