Spinal cord injury FAQs

Spinal Cord Injury FAQs

It can be difficult to find all the relevant and accurate information you need when trying to learn about a particular medical condition. This normally involves visiting more than one site and trying to sift through what is useful and what is not.

With each condition, there are usually a selection of questions that are frequently asked in order to gain some basic understanding of it. This certainly applies in the case of spinal cord injuries.

Below we have put together some of the most frequently asked questions related to spinal cord injuries along with detailed answers.

What is the Spine?

Anatomy of the Spine
Anatomy of the human Spine

There are 33 bones (vertebrae) which make up the human spine and they are stacked on top of each other. Its main function is to provide structural support for the body and to protect the spinal cord.

The spinal column is divided into five regions; cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral and the coccyx at the very base of the structure.

Typically, the spine will form a natural ‘S-shaped’ curve, although certain spinal abnormalities may result in an atypical spinal shape.

What is the Spinal Cord?

The spinal cord is contained within the vertebrae in the spinal canal. It consists of a mix of nerves and fibers that deliver signals from the brain to the rest of the body. The spinal cord is made up of gray and white matter and each of the sections serve different parts of the body.

For example, the spinal cord in the cervical or neck area will control things like speech and breathing as well as arm and hand movement. The lower lumbar region will be involved in walking and bladder and bowel control.

What is a Spinal Cord Injury?

Any damage to the vertebrae or the interior spinal cord itself is considered a spinal cord injury.

The injury is usually defined by where it occurs and the extent of the damage. A spinal cord injury can be classified as complete or incomplete.

A complete spinal cord injury refers to instances whereby a total lack of motor function and sensation is experienced below the point of injury.

With incomplete spinal cord injuries, the spinal cord is still able to transmit messages to and from the brain below the point of injury. This also means that some sensation can be experienced and some movement can be possible from below the injury point.

How are Spinal Cord Injuries Classified?

Spinal cord injuries are classified according to the vertebrae where the damage occurs. Cervical spinal injuries can be classified as C1 to C8, thoracic as T1 to T12 and lumbar as L1 to L5.

They are also classified according to whether the damage is complete or incomplete. Complete means there is no communication between the nerves below the point of injury and the brain. With incomplete injuries, there is some communication because the spinal cord is only partially damaged.

Even within these different classifications, there will be many differences between individuals and how their spinal cord injury affects them.

What is the Difference Between Paraplegia and Quadriplegia?

Paraplegic in wheelchair

The type of paralysis that results from a spinal cord injury will depend on where the injury has occurred and the extent of the damage sustained.

Paraplegia refers to when the individual’s injury has affected movement and sensation in their legs and lower half of the body.

Quadriplegia (also known as tetraplegia) refers to cases where the injury has affected all four limbs of the patient.

What are Some of the Most Common Causes of SCI?

The most common cause of a spinal cord injury is traumatic damage. This can be from an automobile accident, fall, sporting injury or violent crime, to name just a few possible causes.

Spinal cord injuries can be also caused by disease such as cancer, for example, if a tumor is growing near the spinal cord. Damage to the spinal cord may also occur from birth, due to conditions such as spina bifida.

Can Someone with an SCI Ever Walk Again?

How an SCI affects the patient’s prognosis depends on the extent of the injury and where it occurs. Injuries of higher level typically have a much poorer prognosis.

With advances in medical treatment options and rehabilitation techniques, spinal cord injury patients have been able to make great progress.

Research continues with the aim of developing more treatment options which will allow SCI patients to walk again.

Aside from Reduced Mobility, How Else can a Spinal Cord Injury Affect the Body?

Our nerves send messages to and from the rest of the body but this is not all concerned with movement. Individuals with spinal cord injuries can experience many secondary complications such as lack of bladder and bowel control, difficulty breathing as well as issues related to blood pressure and body temperature regulation.

Incomplete or blocked nerve impulses may also mean that the patient suffers from spasticity, where muscles will twitch uncontrollably.

The extent of these other symptoms will depend on a wide range of factors, but many can be dealt with effectively with the right support and appropriate management techniques.

Is There a Definitive Cure for Spinal Cord Injuries?

There is no definitive cure for a spinal cord injury at the moment though there has been progress in recent years with advances in treatment options such as epidural stimulation.

The complexity of spinal cord injuries mean that they are highly individual and affect people in different ways.

What are the Treatment Options for Spinal Cord Injuries?

The initial aim for medical professionals treating an individual who has sustained an SCI revolves around stabilizing the injury. This may involve surgery in some cases, immobilization during recovery as well as medication.

Administering IV steroids at the time of the injury has been shown to deliver beneficial effects in some patients. The biggest effort is put into helping the individual recover and then to live as independent life as possible.

This may involve embracing new assistive technologies and developing management strategies for problems such as bowel and bladder control.

When it comes to longer-term recovery and spinal cord injury treatment options with the aim of helping to regain movement, procedures such as the aforementioned epidural stimulation have proven to be successful in many cases.