The design of the spinal cord is a combination of strong bones, flexible ligaments and tendons, large muscles, and sensitive nerves. Damaging the spinal cord can result in either temporary or permanent loss of muscle function, sensation, or autonomic function. On average, about 12,000 spinal cord injuries occur each year. According to National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center in 2005 about 39% of spinal cord injuries are from vehicle accidents, 28% are from falls, 14% from violence, 8% from sports, and 9% from unknown. (1)
What makes up the spinal cord?
The spinal cord is a column made up of nerves and support cells protected by a sheath of myelin and then secured to 31 vertebrae. (3) The spinal cord is then divided into four distinct sections and controls the motor information, sensory information, and coordinates certain reflexes. Understanding what region the injury occurred in will help diagnosis and treat the injury.
The four spinal cord regions are:
Cervical Spinal Cord: Found at the topmost portion of the spinal cord, where the brain connects to the spine. The top two segments handle the most of the rotation of the cervical spine. Usually, acute neck pain is caused by muscle, ligament or tendon strain. (2)
Thoracic Spinal Cord: Found in the upper back of the body, there are 12 vertebral bodies that attach to the rib cage forming structural support that allows little motion. It also protects vital organs of the heart and the lungs. (2)
Lumbar Spinal Cord: Found in the lower back and is divided into 5 segments to allow more motion than the Thoracic Spinal cord region. The two lower discs take most of the strain and if herniated can cause lower back pain and numbness to radiated through the leg. (2)
Sacral Spine: Found at the bottom of the spine and makes up the back part of the pelvis.
Spinal Cord Injuries
- Incomplete spinal cord injuries: This is where the spinal cord is only partially severed, allowing the injured person to retain some function. Due to the increase in knowledge and treatments incomplete spinal cord injuries account for 60% of spinal cord injuries (3)
Types of Incomplete Spinal cord Injuries:
Anterior Cord Syndrome: this occurs when there is damage to the front portion of the spinal cord.
Central Cord Syndrome: this occurs when there is damage to the cervical spinal cord and is caused by falls or vehicle accidents.
Brown-Sequard Syndrome: this occurs when the spinal cord is more injured on one side than the other.
- Complete spinal cord injuries: This where the spinal cord is fully severed, eliminating function. However, it may be possible to regain some function through treatment and physical therapy.
How Are Spinal Cord Injuries Treated?
Most important component of spinal cord injuries is to remain still and avoid moving your spinal column can help increase better outcomes and recovery. Doctors will focus on stabilizing the injured patient and then develop a plan to address the patient’s injuries. Unfortunately, there is no way to reverse the damage to the spinal cord, although researchers are studying new treatments that could help improve the function of the nerves that remain after a spinal cord injury.
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