Spinal Cord Injury

The spinal cord enables your brain to communicate with your body. Up and down the spinal cord, every second of your life, messages are sent to keep you on the move. When a spinal cord injury (SCI) occurs, communication may be severed, resulting in a loss of function.

The cord in humans may be likened to a coaxial cable, about one inch in diameter, and is a continuation of the brain. It looks like firm, white fat; nerves extend out from the cord to the muscles, skin and bones, to control movement, receive sensations and regulate bodily excretions and secretions. The 31 pairs of spinal nerves divide the cord into the following segments: 8 cervical, 12 thoracic, 5 lumbar, 5 sacral, and 1 coccygeal.

SCI occurs when a traumatic event results in damage to cells within the spinal cord or severs the nerve tracts that relay signals up and down the spinal cord. The most common types of SCI include contusion (bruising of the spinal cord) and compression (caused by pressure on the spinal cord). Other types of injuries include lacerations (severing or tearing of some nerve fibers, such as damage caused by a gun shot wound), and central cord syndrome (specific damage to the corticospinal tracts of the cervical region of the spinal cord).

Severe SCI often causes paralysis (loss of control over voluntary movement and muscles of the body) and loss of sensation and reflex function below the point of injury, including autonomic activity such as breathing and other activities such as bowel and bladder control. Other symptoms such as pain or sensitivity to stimuli, muscle spasms, and sexual dysfunction may develop over time. SCI patients are also prone to develop secondary medical problems, such as bladder infections, lung infections, and bed sores.

 

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