What is a spinal cord injury?

Spinal cord injuries commonly lead to paralysis; they involve damage to the nerves within the bony protection of the spinal canal. The most common cause of spinal cord dysfunction is trauma (including motor vehicle accidents, falls, shallow diving, acts of violence, and sports injuries). Damage can also occur from various diseases acquired at birth or later in life, from tumors, electric shock, and loss of oxygen related to surgical or underwater mishaps.

The spinal cord does not have to be severed in order for a loss of function to occur. The spinal cord can be bruised, stretched, or crushed. Since the spinal cord coordinates body movement and sensation, an injured spinal cord loses the ability to send and receive messages from the brain to the body’s system that controls sensory, motor, and autonomic function.

The location of the spinal cord injury dictates the parts of the body that are affected. After a complete examination, the doctor will assign a level of injury. The doctor will also determine if the injury is complete or incomplete. The level of injury and function may change; the initial level of injury may not be the same level upon discharge to rehabilitation. It is important to remember that these are general guidelines and that individual outcomes will vary.

Information courtesy of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.
For more visit: www.christopherreeve.org