Spinal Cord Injury 101

Spinal Cord 101

Spinal Cord Injury 101

What is a Spinal Cord Injury and How Does it Affect the Body?

Spinal Cord Injuries (SCI) is defined as damage to any part of the spinal cord, the nerves or the immediate surrounding structures that may cause change to gross motor function or sensation. The spinal cord is divided into 4 major regions; Cervical region (C1-C8), Thoracic region (T1-T12), Lumbar region (L1-L5) and the Sacral region (S1-S5) see spinal cord anatomy. Research indicates that 51% of the cases that affect the spinal cord are caused by trauma injuries such as crushes, compresses, fractures gunshot or knife wounds to the spine.

Categories of Spinal Cord Injury

Non-traumatic injuries to the spine account for 49% of SCI’s related to arthritis, inflammation, cancer or infections caused by disc degeneration. There are two categories of Spinal Cord Injuries; one is a complete spinal cord injury and the other is an incomplete spinal cord injury. Complete spinal cord injuries result in a loss of function (motor) and sensation (sensory) from the site of injury downwards through the spinal cord, however, function is preserved above the level of injury. If the site of injury is particularly at a higher level on the spinal cord (e.g C4), this would result in tetraplegia/quadriplegia; a medical term used to describe loss of motor and sensory of all 4 limbs. If the site of injury is lower on the spinal cord of a complete spinal cord injury, the medical term would be known as paraplegia; the loss of nerve and motor function from T10 and below presenting with loss of leg, bladder, bowel and sexual function. Depending on the severity and location of the injury on the spinal cord, the ability to walk may or may not be present and ambulatory assistive devices would be required. Incomplete SCI’s have 6 different classifications and manifest as partial motor and/or sensory loss:


Classifications of Spinal Cord Injury

Anterior Cord Syndrome: Defined as damage to the front of the spinal cord, which can result in impaired temperature, touch and pain recognition

Central Cord Syndrome: Damage to the centre of the spinal cord, affects the lower limb

Posterior Cord Syndrome: Damage to the back of the spinal cord, this results in poor coordination

Posterior Cord Syndrome:  Characterized by damage to the back of the spinal cord. Most survivors with posterior cord syndrome maintain good muscle power, pain, and temperature sensation, but experience poor coordination.

Brown-Sequard Syndrome: Damage to one side of the spinal cord impairing the movement of one side of the body

Cauda Equine Lesion: damage to the nerves locates between the first and second lumbar region resulting in partial or complete sensory loss


Prevention and Treatment

Prompt treatment is vital to the success of one’s recovery after a SCI. Medical research is aware of the importance to urgently reduce swelling following a SCI to maintain the integrity of the tissue. To date, there are approximately 86,000 Canadians living with a spinal cord injury and approximately 4,300 new cases a year.   The Mayo Clinic has identified a few helpful tips that can help keep you safe and reduce the risk of SCI:

  • Drive safely. Car crashes are one of the most common causes of spinal cord injuries. Wear a seat belt every time you drive or ride in a car.
Make sure that your children wear a seat belt or use an age- and weight-appropriate child safety seat. To protect them from air bag injuries, children under age 12 should always ride in the back seat.
  • Check water depth before diving. Be aware of the level of water you may attempt to dive into. The depth of the water should correlate with the height from where you are diving from. Unless you are a professional diver, avoid jumping from excessive heights and dive in places that have been cleared for doing so.
  • Prevent falls. Use a step stool with a grab bar to reach objects in high places. Add handrails along stairways. Put nonslip mats on tile floors and in the tub or shower. For young children, use safety gates to block stairs and consider installing window guards.
  • Take precautions when playing sports. Always wear recommended safety gear. Avoid leading with your head in sports. Avoid tackling with using the top of your helmet in football or use a spotter for new moves in gymnastics.
  • Don’t drink and drive. For your safety and the safety of others on the road, have a designated driver or use public transportation. Driving while intoxicated slows your reaction time and decreases acuity.

Let us use precaution in protecting our body.

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Photo Credit: Spineuniverse.com




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