When you suffer a spinal cord injury, your brain gets cut off from part of your body. Depending on the severity and location of your injury, it could destroy the connection between your brain, neck, and the rest of your body.
A spinal cord injury is one of the most serious injuries you can suffer. If your spinal cord gets severed, you will suffer permanent paralysis in at least some of your muscles and organs.
Learn about how a spinal cord injury happens and what you can do to recover compensation.
What Does Your Spinal Cord Do?
Your spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that runs through your spine, connecting to your brain at its top end. As it passes down your back, it branches off into an array of nerve roots.
Each nerve root carries signals that control a specific region of your body, depending on its location. For example, you have a nerve root for your right shoulder and upper arm in your neck and a different nerve root for your left foot in your lower back.
Nerve roots further branch into peripheral nerves, which connect nerve roots to individual organs and muscles.
Nerve cells called neurons carry nerve signals. Neurons communicate with each other using charged particles called ions. When a neuron needs to send a message, it transfers ions from inside the cell to the cell’s surface through a channel.
The next neuron in the nerve detects this change in electrical charge and brings its ions to its surface. Each neuron repeats this process down the nerve.
Nerves carry three types of signals this way:
Autonomic signals travel from your brain to your organs. These signals control your body’s involuntary systems, which include your heart, lungs, stomach, and sweat glands.
Sensory signals provide information from your sensory organs to your brain. This information helps your brain control your body. For example, if your skin detects warmth, a sensory signal is sent to your brain so it can then manage your sweat glands via an autonomic signal and begin producing sweat.
Motor signals travel from your brain to your muscles to tell them to move, tightening in a process called flexion and relaxing in a process called extension. These two motor signals allow your body to perform any movement, from walking to lifting a fork.
What Can Cause a Spinal Cord Injury?
Traumatic spinal cord injuries usually result from only a few causes, including:
The vertebrae and discs of the spine surround the spinal cord and canal to protect it from injury, but if a foreign object penetrates the spinal canal, it can sever the spinal cord.
This can happen in a deliberate assault, during which a bullet or knife blade can enter the spinal canal and cut the nerves inside.
A foreign object can also enter the spinal canal in an accident. A workplace accident can result in a spinal cord injury when a tool or other sharp object gets propelled into your spinal canal. A motorcycle accident can also injure the spinal cord when the rider falls onto a piece of metal or glass, piercing the spinal cord.
The spinal canal is formed by a passageway through vertebrae. Your spine includes 24 vertebrae. You have seven vertebrae in your neck, 12 vertebrae in the back of your chest, and five vertebrae in your lower back.
When a vertebra moves out of place, it can pinch and sever nerves in the spinal cord.
Each vertebra includes a solid cylinder called the body and several wing-shaped protrusions called processes. When you fracture a vertebral body, bone fragments can penetrate the spinal canal and sever nerves in the spinal cord.
When you fracture a spinous process, ligaments can fail to hold the vertebra in place, and it can dislocate. As mentioned above, a dislocated vertebra can sever the spinal cord.
What Types of Spinal Cord Injuries Can Occur?
Spinal cord injuries usually fall into two categories:
Complete Spinal Cord Injury
In a complete spinal cord injury, all the nerves in the spinal cord get severed. When this happens, no nerve signals can travel past the site of the injury, and you will lose all sensation and movement below this point.
Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury
In an incomplete spinal cord injury, some but not all of the nerves in the spinal cord get severed. This means that some nerve connections will remain after the injury. With therapy, you may recover some function in the areas below the injury.
What Are the Effects of a Spinal Cord Injury?
The effects of a spinal cord injury vary depending on the location in which it occurs. When you sever the spinal cord, the nerve roots below the injury cannot send or receive nerve signals. But since lower nerve roots control lower parts of your body, the portion of your body that becomes paralyzed will vary depending on the injury location.
When a spinal cord injury happens at the top of the neck, the victim will die without immediate medical attention. The nerve roots at this level control the muscles that expand and contract your chest to help you breathe. Without these nerves, your brain cannot control your breathing, and you will suffocate.
The nerve roots lower in your neck connect to your upper limbs, and so a spinal cord injury in the neck will cause partial or total paralysis in all four limbs.
The nerve roots in your back control your abdominal organs and lower limbs. In this case, a spinal cord injury in your back will cause partial or total paralysis in your lower limbs.
What Compensation Can You Seek for a Spinal Cord Injury?
You can seek substantial compensation for spinal cord injuries that result in both high medical expenses and lost income due to someone else’s negligence. You will also likely seek compensation for the injury’s impact on your quality of life due to pain, mental anguish, and permanent disability.
A spinal cord injury can deprive you of sensation and movement in at least part of your body. As a result, you might lose your ability to work or even care for yourself.