Spinal cord injuries (SCIs) affect an estimated 450,000 people in the United States. More than half of all spinal cord injuries occur in patients between the ages of 16 and 30, and 80% of these are male. Nearly a third of SCIs are caused by automobile accidents, and a quarter of these injuries result from falls. There are many different types of SCIs that vary greatly in severity. If you or someone you know has suffered a spinal cord injury, it’s helpful to understand the scope of the SCI and what it could mean for the future.
Spinal cord injuries are classified as either complete or incomplete. This is one of the first assessments that you’ll likely receive if you’re presenting with an injury to your spinal cord.
A complete spinal cord injury severs all communication between the brain and the body beyond the point of injury. Complete spinal cord injuries create a total loss of sensory and motor function below the injury level. The right and left sides of the body are affected equally.
This loss of function is usually caused by compromised blood flow or a contusion to the spinal cord, also known as a bruise. In some cases, the spinal cord may suffer a partial or complete tear.
An incomplete spinal cord injury leaves some sensory and motor function below the point of injury. There are varying degrees of incomplete injuries. The patient may retain more sensation and movement on one side of the body than the other. Patients may recover from incomplete spinal cord injuries to varying degrees, depending on the state of the patient’s health and the specifics of the injury.
The level of a spinal cord injury determines which section of the spinal cord sustained trauma. All points below the level of the injury are affected, so a spinal cord injury that occurs higher on the spine will impact more of the body.
The cervical section of the spinal cord encompasses the top seven vertebrae from C-1 to C-7. Located in the neck, these vertebrae are the closest to the brain and will result in the most severe form of spinal cord injury. At this level, each vertebra is critical, and patients may experience a dramatic difference in ability depending upon the exact point of the injury. Symptoms based on injury location include:
A thoracic spinal cord injury impacts the upper to middle part of the back at the vertebra between T-1 and T-12. The nerves from T-1 to T-5 affect control of the lungs and diaphragm. This part of the spine affects the upper chest, middle back, and abdominal muscles.
Nerves from T-6 to T-12 affect your posture and balance around the middle back and abdomen. They also help you cough. Injuries to this area can affect bladder and bowel control as well as leg movement and sensation.
The lumbar area of the spine encompasses the L-1 to L-5 vertebrae. This part of the spine carries the most weight. Lumbar spinal cord injuries can impact the patient’s ability to walk and control their bladder and bowels.
Sacral spinal cord injuries involve the five bones, S-1 to S-5, that comprise the sacrum. Injuries to this area typically cause loss of movement in the hips and legs with little or no control of the bowel and bladder. Those with an injury to the sacral part of the spine typically retain the ability to walk.
Spinal cord injuries are graded on a scale developed by the American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA). The less severity, the greater the likelihood of recovery. Doctors grade spinal cord injuries using two sensory exams, a motor exam, and an impairment scale. Muscles are rated on a scale of one to five, where five is normal muscle function and zero is total paralysis. ASIA classifications are:
You should seek medical attention if you suffer from any type of SCI. Common symptoms include weakness or decreased sensation in the arms or legs, pain in the neck or back, trouble breathing, and loss of bowel or bladder control. You may also notice lumps on the spine.
Our personal injury lawyers at Goodman Acker can help you seek compensation if an at-fault party is involved in your injury. This can help you manage the costs associated with medical bills, physical therapy, loss of earning potential, and more. Contact us for a free consultation.
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