Spinal Injury Information Center
The Anatomy of a Spinal Cord Injury
Spinal cord injuries are serious and it may not be obvious that someone has a spinal cord injury. The treatment given to a person immediately after he of she has suffered one of these injuries is critical to limiting the amounting of harm done and preventing secondary injuries from occurring. Contact an attorney in your area today if you or a loved one has suffered a spinal cord injury. You may be eligible for compensation for your injury.
The spinal cord is surrounded by bone called the vertebrae that protects the fragile cord from injury. The spinal cord and vertebra make up the spinal column. The spinal cord is part of the central nervous system and delivers signals between the brain and the rest of the body. The cord is made up of many types of nerve fibers and cells. The spinal column is divided into five distinct segments from top to bottom:
- Cervical vertebrae (neck) -- controls back of the head, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, diaphragm
- Thoracic vertebrae (upper back) -- controls chest muscles, some back muscles, parts of the abdomen
- Lumbar vertebrae (middle back) -- controls lower abdomen, lower back, buttocks, some parts of the legs, some parts of the external genital organs
- Sacral vertebrae (hips) -- controls thighs, lower parts of legs, feet, most of the external genital organs, area around the anus
- Coccygeal vertebrae (tailbone) -- controls sensation from the skin on the lower back
Level of Injury
The level of injury refers to the segment damaged by the injury, below which function has been lost, either completely or partially meaning that the ability of the brain to send and receive messages down the spinal cord has been impaired or severed altogether. The higher up the level of injury on the spinal column, the more function lost. For example, a person in a car accident who suffers a C5 injury will have lost more function than a person in a similar accident with a L4 injury.
Complete vs. Incomplete Injury
An incomplete injury means that the injured person retains some level of function below the level of injury. This function can be mobility (ability to move) or sensory (ability to feel sensation). A complete injury means that the injured person does not retain any function below the level of injury on either side of the body, meaning he or she cannot move or feel anything below this level.
Immediate Treatment of SCI
While a spinal cord injury can occur from an illness or disease (like a tumor), the most common cause is a traumatic injury that dislocates or fractures the vertebra protecting the spinal cord. This contact can cause hemorrhage and swelling of the spinal cord, tearing of the cord or disruption of the spinal nerves. The spinal cord is rarely severed completely.
Immediately after a suspected spinal cord injury, it is vitally important to take action to stabilize the spine and prevent or minimize secondary injuries. Secondary injuries are those that occur after the initial trauma and can exacerbate the damage to the spinal cord.
Thus, immediate treatment of a spinal cord injury includes:
- Determining if there are any structural problems with the spine that need to be surgically repaired
- Determining if there is compression on the spine that needs to be surgically relieved
- Minimizing the damage to the nerve cells with the use of steroids (methylprednisolone)
- Stabilizing and reducing the vertebrae
- Immobilizing the patient
If the person suffered a high spinal cord injury in the cervical vertebrae, he or she may be unable to breathe without the help of a ventilator. If you come into contact with a person you suspect has suffered a spinal cord injury, call an ambulance and do not attempt to move him or her, or you could make the injury worse.
If you or a loved one has suffered a spinal cord injury, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer to explore your legal options. You may be entitled to compensation for your injury.
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