What Is The Spinal Cord?
The spinal cord is a cylindrical bundle of nerve fibers and associated tissue that is enclosed in the spine. These fibers connect to nearly every part of the body to the brain and is a major part of the nervous system. As you can imagine, the spinal cord is a very crucial part of your body's ability to move or receive and send signals to the brain.
However, that also means that any damage to this area can have severe consequences. Spinal cord injuries disrupts the signals which can harm your ability to move or receive sensory messages. Though injuries can sometimes be temporary or get better with treatment, spinal cord injuries have very low chances of healing. Luckily, spinal injuries are not very common.
What Happens When The Spinal Cord Has Been Injured?
Due to the complicated nature of the spinal cord, not all injuries will look or feel the same. Some may find themselves completely unable to move their legs while others may only lack the ability to feel sensations in their right arm. This is why doctors and scientists continue to have such a challenging time trying to understand it themselves.
To begin understanding a spinal cord injury, you must first find out the severity of the injury itself. If the injury is considered “complete” then the patient will have no feeling or mobility below the spinal injury. However, if there is some motor or sensory function in the injured area, the injury is instead considered “incomplete”.
In addition, the type of spinal cord injury will change what part of the body is most affected. For example, a heavy blow to the lower back is likely to cause loss of movement and sensation in the lower half of your body while your top half remains unaffected. However, a stroke or other medical condition may only limit lack mobility or sensation to a small portion of your body such as the left side of your face or your right hand.
Depending on the area, severity, and type of injury, different symptoms may arise. However, here are the most common symptoms of a spinal cord injury of any severity.
- Loss of movement
- Loss of sensation, including being able to feel temperature and touch
- Difficulty breathing, coughing or clearing your lungs
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Pain or an intense stinging sensation in the spinal region
- Changes in sexual sensitivity, function and fertility
What Causes A Spinal Cord Injury?
In very basic terms, anything that damages the nerves of your spinal cord will fall under this category. This could be from a physical blow to the spine or an illness that affects the nerve system. However, there are a few ways to receive a spinal cord injury that tend to be more common than others.
Motor vehicle accidents - The number one leading cause of most spinal cord injuries are motor vehicle accidents. Due to the head and neck jerking reaction that commonly occurs in an auto accident, the neck, head, and spine can be easily damaged. For those riding motorcycles, it can be even more brutal. With less protection than the driver of a car, motorcyclists end up feeling the full force of the collision. Both auto and motorcycle accidents account for 35 percent of spinal cord injuries every year.
Slip and fall accidents - Slip and falls account for 25 percent of all spinal cord injuries every year. For those that are 65 years old or older, slip and falls become the most likely cause of spinal cord injuries due to their increased fragility of their bones and slower reaction time.
Violent acts - Coming at around 15 percent of all spinal cord injuries are violent encounters involving a gunshot or knife wounds. Though these victims are lucky to survive, their lives will be permanently changed in several ways.
If you believe someone may have experienced an injury to the spinal cord, call 911 immediately! These types of injuries can not wait and will worsen the longer you hesitate to seek medical attention.