Spinal Cord Injury overview
The spinal cord is one of the most critical and intricate pieces of the human body. As such, spinal cord injuries are quite serious, even when they’re relatively mild in scope. Damage to any part of the spinal cord or nerves of the cauda equina is considered a spinal cord injury and could result in permanent changes to sensation and strength.
For those who only recently experienced a spinal cord injury, it can often feel as if it’s negatively impacted every aspect of your life, leading to mental and emotional trouble. However, scientists are currently optimistic about all the advances being made in our ability to repair this complex system of moving pieces.
The placement and severity of a spinal cord injury will have the most immediate impact on the symptoms experienced. For instance, the severity of the damage will often be called “completeness.” This refers to how much of the signaling function of your spinal cord has been lost by the injury.
Complete severity results in loss of all feeling and motor function below the injury, while those with incomplete severity will still retain some level of motor or sensory function below the injury level. However, the degree to which they retain functionality is entirely dependent on the injury itself.
This spinal cord dysfunction can also be referred to as quadriplegia and paraplegia. Paraplegia affects all or part of the trunk and legs, while quadriplegia impacts everything below the neck. Regardless of where it happens, spinal cord injuries tend to result in some level of loss of movement, sensation, and bladder control, as well as difficulty breathing, pain, and involuntary spasms.
Spinal cord injuries usually result from damage sustained to the vertebrae, ligaments, or discs of the spinal column. By far, the most common cause of spinal cord injuries is a sudden trauma or impact which breaks and dislocates the complex spinal cord system.
That said, nontraumatic spinal cord injuries do exist, and are typically the result of arthritis, extreme inflammation, infection, disk degeneration, or even cancer. Regardless of how it occurs, damage from swelling and fluid blockages increases overall damage over time.
The main risk factors for spinal cord injuries are things that may increase your chances of sustaining an injury. This includes being male, being between 16-30, or over 60 years old, and having a history of risky behavior. However, other factors, including having a joint or bone disorder, could significantly increase your chances of sustaining a spinal cord injury.
According to research, around 17,500 people across the US every year suffer some type of spinal cord injury. The vast majority of these come from auto accidents, falls, violence, or sports injury.
Anyone who has experienced significant trauma to their head or neck needs to be evaluated by medical professionals to diagnose any concussions, as well as potential spinal injuries. In cases like these, it’s best to assume the worst until a doctor can rule out any problems. A severe spinal cord injury is not always immediately noticeable, and the sooner it’s recognized, the better.