FAQ’s About Spinal Cord Injuries

Published: April 24, 2005
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Spinal cord injury (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.

The nerve cell body remains intact, and only the “sending” or “receiving” fibers have to regrow as longer extensions from the nerve cell body. The Peripheral nerves, outside the brain and spinal cord can do this quite easily. But within the brain and spinal cord there is much impediment to such regrowth.

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.

The National Spinal Cord Injury Association (NSCIA at 1-800-962-9629) maintains a current list of all accredited programs… over 50 in all. Some factors to consider in choosing a facility:

1. Reputation/word of mouth.
2. Proximity to home, family, friends.
3. Availability of facilities needed/wanted for one’s specific rehab objectives. For example, FES, Occupational Therapy, attitudes of staff, etc.

Sexual function, as in all other human bodily systems, is controlled by the Central Nervous System. Thus, any injury to the central nervous system will affect sexual function. The question is to what extent function and sensation will be affected with injuries at various levels and degrees of severity. Also, in what ways do the symptoms manifest themselves in males v. females. As one can imagine, this is a vast and complex subject that cannot be adequately treated in just a few paragraphs.

Complete injuries result in total loss of sensation and function below the injury level. Incomplete injuries result in partial loss. “Complete” does not necessarily mean the cord has been severed. Each of the above categories can occur in Paraplegia and Quadriplegia.

Lesion of the spinal cord that results in paralysis of certain areas of the body, along with the corresponding loss of sensation. Paraplegia refers to paralysis from approximately the waist down and Quadriplegia refers to paralysis from approximately the shoulders down. Most spinal cord injuries result in loss of sensation and function below the level of injury, including loss of controlled function of the bladder and bowel.

Partial or complete loss of function, especially when involving the motion or sensation in a part of the body.

The most common causes of spinal cord injury are car and other Motor vehicle collisions (54.7%), falls (17.7%), and other medical conditions and sports injuries (27.6%). The injury is usually caused by sudden impact, which crushes the spine and cord.

Paraplegia is the loss of sensation and movement in legs and in part or all of the trunk, usually resulting from an injury to the spinal cord below the neck. Quadriplegia (also Tetraplegia) is paralysis of all four limbs (from the neck down) resulting from injury to the neck. Fractures or compression of the Vertebrae, which cause permanent damage to the spinal cord may lead to loss of sensation, movement, pain management, bladder and bowel control, as well as affecting sexual function.

Research on trauma-related disorders such as SCI focuses on increasing scientific understanding of how changes in molecules, cells, and their complex interactions determine the outcome of SCI, and finding ways to prevent and treat these injuries. There is also increasing interest in neural stem and progenitor cells and their potential application in cell replacement therapies for the treatment of complex neurological disorders such as SCI.

The types of Disability associated with SCI vary greatly depending on the severity of the injury, the segment of the spinal cord at which the injury occurs, and which nerve fibers are damaged. Most people with SCI regain some functions between a week and 6 months after injury, but the likelihood of spontaneous recovery diminishes after 6 months. Rehabilitation strategies can minimize long-term disability.

While recent advances in emergency care and Rehabilitation allow many SCI patients to survive, methods for reducing the extent of injury and for restoring function are still limited. Immediate treatment for acute SCI includes techniques to relieve cord compression, prompt (within 8 hours of the injury) drug therapy with corticosteroids such as methylprednisolone to minimize cell damage, and stabilization of the Vertebrae of the spine to prevent further injury.

Damage to the spinal cord due to an injury can be permanent and currently there is no cure, however new research proves that spinal cord repair and Regeneration is possible. More and more researchers around the world are confident that a cure for paralysis could be as close as ten years away. New breakthroughs and discoveries leading to a cure are imminent.

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 occurs, communication may be severed, resulting in a loss of function.

All mammals begin as two cells — sperm and egg — that combine into a single cell. This single cell will divide exponentially into specialized cells making up various organs and systems — all the tissues of a new organism. Simply put, a stem cell is an immature cell that can become a different cell, or perhaps become one of many different cells. Most stem cells also can renew themselves — divide — indefinitely. These two characteristics are what present a new pathway to repairing damage to the human body caused by trauma, degeneration and disease.