A spinal cord injury is defined as damage to a part of the spinal cord or the nerves at the tail end of the spinal canal (cauda equine). It often causes permanent changes in sensation, strength, and other body functions right below the site of injury. If you or someone you know has recently had a spinal cord injury, it may seem like all aspects of your life, and your family’s life have been affected. The effects of your injury will surely impact you mentally, socially, and emotionally.
Scientists are hopeful that developments in research will soon make spinal cord repair possible. A lot of studies and research are currently going on across the world. Consequently, treatment and rehab have allowed many SCI patients to live fruitful, independent lives.
Types of SCI
A person’s ability to control his extremities after an injury to the spinal cord depends on two elements: the location of the injury in the spinal region and the severity of the injury to the spinal cord.
- Complete SCI. If the person does not feel any sensation and is unable to control his movements below the spinal cord injury, it is classified as a complete SCI.
- Incomplete SCI. If some feeling (sensory) or movement control (motor) is spared below the injury, then the injury is classified as an incomplete SCI.
Additionally, paralysis due to a spinal cord injury also has a classification.
- Tetraplegia. The hands, arms, trunk, pelvic area, and legs are affected by the injury. It is also called quadriplegia.
- Paraplegia. Weakness includes the lower half of the body, specifically the trunk, pelvic area, and legs.
Your team of medical professionals will do a series of exams to test the person’s neurological level and classification of injury.
Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms that a spinal cord injury patient will present with.
- Loss of sensation, which includes the inability to feel cold, heat, and touch.
- Loss of movement
- Hyperactive reflexes and spasms
- Loss of bladder and bowel control
- Changes of loss in sexual sensitivity, fertility, and function
- Difficulty breathing or clearing out secretions from the lungs
- Tingling sensation or intense pain due to the damage of the nerve fibers in the spinal cord.
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Mechanics Of Spinal Cord Injury
SCI may be caused by destruction to the vertebrae, disks, or ligaments of the spinal column or the cord itself. A blunt blow to the spine may fracture or dislocate one or more vertebrae. Compression may also occur. Finally, the spinal cord can be damaged from direct gunshot or knife that penetrates the spinal cord. When this happens, secondary damage happens when the spine goes through inflammation, infection, arthritis, or disk degeneration.
The Central Nervous System And The Brain
The CNS encompasses the brain and the spinal cord. The latter is most of the soft tissue and is protected by the vertebrae. It begins at the base of the brain, made up of nerve cells known as tracts. These nerve cells merge just above the waist and are collectively called the conus medullaris. Just below it is its nerve roots known as the cauda equina.
The spinal cord tracts are responsible for sending impulses from the brain to the rest of the body. The motor tracts (pathways) send signals to control muscular movement, while the sensory tracts send signals that are associated with cold, heat, pain, pressure and position of the extremities.
Common Causes Of Spinal Cord Injuries
These are some of the leading causes of SCI in America.
- Vehicular accidents. Automobile and motorcycle accidents are the top causes of injuries to the spinal cord, which accounts for about 50% of new spinal cord injuries yearly.
- Seniors are mostly victims of injury to the spinal cord secondary to falls. Falls account for about 15% of spinal cord injuries.
- Violent Encounters. Approximately 12% of SCI patients are reportedly admitted because of violence, such as knife and gunshot wounds.
- Sports injuries. Impact sports like football, basketball, and diving in deep waters comprise 10% of spinal cord injuries.
- Alcohol intake. One out of four people who excessively drink alcohol is prone to spinal cord injuries.
- Other diseases or conditions. Osteoporosis, arthritis, cancer, and inflammation are also some causes of spinal cord injuries.
Preventing Spinal Cord Injuries
Being cautious and following these helpful tips may decrease one’s risk of spinal cord injury:
- Drive safe. Knowing that vehicular accidents are the number one cause of SCI, one should be careful always when driving. Wearing a seatbelt while driving is another essential tip to remember.
- Wear the necessary protective gear when playing contact sports. If you’re into football or baseball, always wear your headgear. Avoid leading with your head.
- Add protective equipment to prevent falls. Attaching handrails on the stairs and bathtubs are very important in preventing falls in the young and old alike. If you have small children, provide blocks and gates for stairs (more recommendations here: mother.ly).
- Never drink and drive. Drinking too much alcohol is a bad thing on its own, but it’s worst when you drink and drive. Also, do not ride with someone who is intoxicated.