Oct 16, 2015

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Causes and Effects of Spinal Cord Injury

The spinal cord is a tube-like structure that extends from the brain stem to the bottom of the spine (spinal column). It is a very delicate and sensitive bundle of nerve tissues. It support cells and forms the central nervous system with the brain. With regard to function, the spinal cord serves as the pathway where messages from the brain (which acts as the body’s control or command center) get transmitted to the different parts of the body and back.

As fragile as it is, the spinal cord is surrounded by layers of protective coverings which are supposed to cushion it from the impact of a forceful blow. These layers of protection include bones, muscles, ligaments and discs. There are instances, however, when the impact to the spinal cord is just too strong or when a foreign object is able to penetrate though the protective coverings, damaging it in the process.

As stated in MedlinePlus, a website owned and operated by the US National Institutes of Health, the more detailed ways through which the spinal cord may be injured, include: weakening of the spine due to rheumatoid arthritis or osteoporosis; bruising of the spinal cord after the disks or bones have been weakened by fragments of metal or fragments of bones; the back, neck or head being twisted abnormally, resulting to the spinal cord getting compressed, pulled or pressed sideways; and, swelling, fluid buildup, or bleeding, either inside or outside the spinal cord, which can press or damage it. These causes of injuries, in turn, can be due assault, gunshot wound, industrial accident, motor vehicle accident, sports injury or falls (from 2000 – 2013, the identified major cause of spinal cord injuries was vehicular accidents; it was replaced by falls in 2014 (this is based on a study conducted by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Center for Surgical Trials and Outcomes Research).

Injuries to the spinal cord usually lead to partial or total paralysis; the actual result depending on the area injured and how severe the injury is. Partial paralysis, also known as paraplegia, is impairment in motor or sensory functions of lower extremities (legs and trunk). The degree of paralysis varies; it may be impairment in leg movement or complete paralysis of the legs and abdomen. Paraplegia affects T1 – S5 levels of the spinal cord; the segments that may be affected are the thoracic, lumbar and sacral cord.

Quadriplegia or tetraplegia, which means paralysis of four limbs, results from a serious injury to the cervical (neck) spinal nerves, damaging particularly C1-C8 segments. If the injury occurs high enough in the area of the neck, then control of breathing may also be lost, necessitating the use of a ventilator for the rest of the patient’s life. Individuals suffering from quadriplegia usually need full-time care.

The website of law firm Mazin & Associates acknowledges the fact that a spinal cord injury has a more comprehensive impact (than many other types of injuries) in the lives of those affected; the firm also believes that, due to the cost of long-term (or life-long, in some cases) medical treatment, the patient’s family may soon be caught in a financial burden that will prove too much for (his/her family) to bear.

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