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The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that carries signals from the brain to the body, and back to the brain. When the spinal cord is damaged, nerve impulses cannot communicate below the area where the damage has occurred. This results in loss of motor and/or sensory function and even paralysis. Damage to any part of the spinal cord is very serious and medical professionals should treat the patient quickly. 

Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injuries occur for many different reasons. Depending upon the severity of the injury, patient’s symptoms may be mild, moderate, or severe enough to cause death. Spinal cord injuries should be treated as quickly as possible to avoid further damage. Some patients may experience temporary symptoms while others will be left with lifelong symptoms.  

Causes for spinal cord injuries are characterized as ‘traumatic’ or ‘non-traumatic.’ Traumatic injuries are caused by an abrupt traumatic hit to the spine which results in damage to one or more of the vertebrae, or a severing of the spinal cord. Non-traumatic injuries are the result of slow internal damage to the spinal cord region.  

Traumatic spinal cord injuries occur due to:

  • Motor vehicle accidents (38%)
  • Slips/falls (30.5%)
  • Acts of violence (13.5%)
  • Sports-related injuries (9%)
  • Medical / surgical (5%)
  • Other (4%)

Non-traumatic spinal cord injuries occur due to:

  • Degeneration of the spinal column
  • Infections
  • Cancer/tumors
  • Inflammation
  • Congenital medical issues 

Level of Spinal Cord Injury

Another way to categorize spinal cord injury causes is whether the damage is ‘complete’ or ‘incomplete.’ A complete spinal cord injury is where the patient loses all function below the point of injury. Complete spinal cord injuries cause paralysis. An incomplete spinal cord injury is where the patient has some feeling and sensation below the point of injury and does not always cause paralysis. Incomplete spinal cord injuries are more common than complete injuries.

Prevention

Spinal cord injuries are severe, however, some may be prevented. Wearing a seatbelt while in a motor vehicle is very important as most spinal cord injuries occur from motor vehicle accidents. It’s important to always wear the appropriate protective gear while playing contact sports. Also be sure to keep your home and workspaces clear of hazards that could cause a fall. Spinal cord injuries are often unpredictable, so prevention is key to lessening your chance of experiencing this debilitating injury.