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Spinal Cord Injury Information Center

Frequently Asked Questions about Spinal Cord Injuries

Q: What is a spinal cord injury?

A: A spinal cord injury (SCI) occurs when there is traumatic injury to the spinal cord resulting in a loss of function, such as mobility and sensation, below the level of injury. The part of the spine that is injured and the severity of the injury will dictate how much function is lost. Most spinal cord injuries do not result in a severance of the spinal cord, but in a fracture of the vertebrae that compresses the cord, causing injury.

Q: What are the most common causes of spinal cord injuries?

A: The most common cause of a spinal cord injury is a motor vehicle accident. Other common causes of spinal cord injuries include deliberate acts of violence (such as a stabbing or shooting), falls and sports-related injuries.

Q: Who is at the highest risk for a spinal cord injury?

A: Of the 10,000-12,000 spinal cord injuries that occur in the United States every year, more than 80 percent of the injuries are suffered by young men between the ages of 16 and 30.

Q: What are the symptoms of a spinal cord injury?

A: It is not always evident that a person has a SCI, especially if it is caused by the onset of an illness or growth of a tumor. Symptoms may include weakness, poor coordination, numbness or tingling, loss of sensation, loss of bowel or bladder control, paralysis and pain.

Q: What types of compensation are available for those who have suffered a spinal cord injury because of someone else's negligence?

A: An attorney can file a lawsuit on your behalf and seek recovery for several types of damages, including for pain and suffering, lost past wages, lost future earning capacity, current and future medical expenses, among others. The types of recovery may be limited by your state's laws, so it is important to consult a lawyer if you are contemplating legal action.

Q: What is the difference between paraplegia and quadriplegia?

A: Paraplegia refers to spinal cord injuries that result in paralysis to the lower back, legs and lower extremities. Quadriplegia occurs when most of the body is paralyzed from the neck down, including both arms and legs.

Q: What types of treatment are available for people with spinal cord injuries?

A: If there is a fracture or dislocation of the spinal cord, surgery may be performed to decompress and stabilize the spinal cord. Some function may be returned after the surgery, but the surgery will not be able to recover all lost function from the injury. Rehabilitation is the mainstay of treatment. Rehab focuses on helping a person with a spinal cord injury gain as much independence as possible and includes exercises to restore and build muscle. Rehab also can include working with vocational therapists and other trained professionals.

Q: What are some of the medical complications caused by a spinal cord injury?

A: Depending on which segments of the spine were injured, people with spinal cord injuries face a number of other health problems because of the injury, including chronic pain, bladder and bowel dysfunction, irregular heart beats, low blood pressure, pressure sores, spasms and reproductive and sexual dysfunction. They are also at risk for heart and respiratory problems and blood clots, among other conditions.

Q: Can a spinal cord injury be corrected with surgery?

A: At this time, no. If there is compression on the spinal cord or the spine needs to be stabilized, surgery can be performed in an attempt to correct these problems. After surgery, some function may be restored, but surgery is currently unable to restore all lost function from a spinal cord injury.

Spinal cord injuries are devastating and have life-long consequences. Contact an attorney experienced in handling spinal cord injury cases for more information on the available options for pursuing a legal remedy.

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DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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