A spinal cord injury is the result of damage to any portion of the spinal cord or the nerves at the base of the spine. The spinal cord is a bundle of nerve fibers and tissue which lies within spine forming the brain’s connection to the body.
Damage to any part of the spinal cord can impact sensory, motor, and reflex capabilities if the brain is unable to send information past the location of the injury. The higher the injury occurs, the more severe the damage. The level of completeness can also impact severity though no two people have the same prognosis for a spinal cord injury.
The spinal cord and the brain make up the body’s central nervous system. The central nervous system is thought to be the most important of all body systems. The spinal cord is encased within ring-shaped bones called vertebrae. Both the spinal cord and the corresponding vertebrae are covered with a protective membrane which together form the spinal column (or backbone).
The spinal cord itself contains an array of nerve cell bodies (grey matter) and axons (white matter) running from the brain to the body with peripheral nerves exiting at openings throughout the vertebrae.
The spinal cord is responsible for relaying messages from the brain to the body and then from the body back to the brain. This action is the responsibility of neurons.
The central nervous system contains more than 100 billion neurons. Neurons are the simplest units that make up the nervous system and are similar to the makeup of any other cell within the body except for their vast potential to relay information through chemical and electrical signals. Through nerve impulses, neurons can communicate messages as far as several feet!
There are four types of neurons:
Every nerve has a specific job for feeling, sensation, and movement and varies in size and responsibility. The nerves communicate to each part of the body how and when to move, and send messages back to the brain about the current environment. Patients can experience debilitating effects when this signal is compromised. In the case of a spinal cord injury in which a portion of the tissue is severed, these neurons are unable to function properly, resulting in permanent or temporary loss of sensation and movement and/or paralysis.
The spinal column is made up of vertebrae which are cylindrical bones that encase the spinal cord. Each vertebra is named for its location within one of the four levels of the spine: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral. The higher up the spinal cord the injury occurs, the more potential areas in which function can be lost.
It is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible if a spinal cord injury is suspected. If trauma to the head or neck has occurred, it is important to not move the injured person. Numbness does not always happen immediately, so if someone has severe a trauma, call 911 and let the medical professionals evaluate the injured person.
Time is a critical factor in spinal cord injuries. The sooner the injured can be evaluated for a suspected spinal cord injury, the better
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