Is the Spinal Cord an Organ?


Consisting primarily of the brain and the spinal cord, the central nervous system is responsible for creating the sensory and motor functions that encompass the entire body. However, while everyone understands without the shadow of a doubt what purpose the brain fulfills, the role of the spinal cord is a bit murkier.

The spinal cord has such far-reaching effects that even the slightest injury to the spinal cord could cause extensive damage to the body’s overall function. Because of this, we’re taking a closer look at the spinal cord, its function, and its role within the body.

The Spinal Cord and Its Function

The spinal cord -- which runs roughly 17 to 18 inches in length -- begins in the brain and extends through an opening called the foramen magnum into the spinal canal, typically ending between the first and second lumbar vertebrae.

From this point, nerve roots reach through the lower end of the spinal cord and provide nerves to the bottom half of the body, including the legs, bowels, bladder, and sexual organs. Multiple membranes protect the spinal cord from harm, and the outermost one -- known as the dura mater -- is filled with cerebrospinal fluid responsible for cushioning and nourishing the spinal cord and nerve roots.

As for the spinal cord itself, it is comprised mostly of nerve tissue and serves as the medium through which messages are delivered to and from the brain to the rest of the body. Thirty-one pairs of spinal nerves run between the vertebrae and can be divided into motor roots and sensory roots, which are located at the front and back of the spinal cord, respectively.

As their names imply, these nerves are responsible for facilitating muscle movement and coordination as well as sensations throughout the body. As such, damage to the nerves and the spinal cord in general can have far-reaching effects on the body’s ability to function properly.

Is the Spinal Cord an Organ?

While the medical community agrees that the spinal cord performs a vital role in the body, an ongoing debate continues to rage with regard to its status as an organ. Some claim that the spinal cord is simply a bundle of nerves that serve as the body’s information superhighway but not an organ in and of itself.

The fact that it doesn’t have a direct impact on the body’s many organs -- despite its effects on nerve ending and motor skills -- lends weight to this argument. Moreover, some consider the spinal cord to be just a group of similar cells in close proximity with each other and not necessarily eligible to be considered an organ.

However, a growing segment of the medical community is beginning to embrace the spinal cord as an organ. Since it is comprised of a common tissue throughout, the spinal cord’s design acts as a single unit in its function for the numerous parts of the body.

In many respects, this is considered a key element of what qualifies an organ as such. After all, the skin similarly protects the body and has far-reaching effects in much the same way the spinal cord plays an instrumental role. If the skin is undoubtedly considered an organ, there’s reason to believe that the spinal cord deserves recognition as well, though his remains debatable and inconclusive.

Not to Be Underestimated

Regardless of whether the medical community deems it an organ or simply an integral ancillary part of the body, the spinal cord serves an incredibly fundamental role in how the body works. Since this one element of the body controls so much, the future will undoubtedly bring a greater understanding of the spinal cord’s function and design, as research into its inner workings sets the stage for medical research breakthroughs that will shape the future of the industry.

In fact, such research could conceivably even revolutionize the conversation regarding the spinal cord’s classification. In the meantime, however, we can only marvel at its power and hope that new data allows us to more effectively provide assistance to those suffering from spinal cord injuries.

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Topics: Spinal Cord Injury

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