Inside the spine, protected by the bones known as vertebrae, is a delicate bundle of nerve fibers called the spinal cord. Those nerves connect the brain to every part of the body, sending signals back and forth that allow us to control our movements and feel things like touch, pressure and temperature.
When the spinal cord is injured, those signals get interrupted and communication between the brain and the affected parts of the body does not work as well. This can result in a variety of symptoms, including pain, numbness, loss of motor control and paralysis. Sometimes those symptoms improve over a period of weeks, months or years, and in other cases they may be permanent.
Types of spinal cord injuries
When a spinal cord injury occurs, it can be categorized in different ways according to location of the injury and the severity of the symptoms. One way that spinal cord injuries can be categorized is with regard to the amount of sensation and motor control that remains in the affected part of the body. If the affected body parts are entirely numb and paralyzed, the injury is referred to as complete. If some sensation or movement remains, it is known as incomplete.
Spinal cord injuries are also classified according to the parts of the body affected. Generally, the physical symptoms of a spinal cord injury occur mostly in the area of the body that is lower than the point of injury on the spine, since that is the region of the body that is unable to communicate as effectively with the brain. Paraplegia is a term used to describe paralysis of the legs, which is usually caused by an injury to the lower spine. Quadriplegia refers to paralysis of all four limbs and is usually the result of an injury to the upper spine.
Spinal cord injury statistics
Car and truck accidents are the single biggest cause of spinal cord injuries in the United States. According to statistics cited by the Mayo Clinic, more than 35 percent of spinal cord injuries are caused by vehicle accidents. Other frequent causes include:
- Falls. More than 25 percent of spinal cord injuries are the result of falls, including falls from heights, trip-and-fall, and slip-and-fall injuries. Falls are the leading cause of spinal cord injury among people age 65 and older.
- Violent assault. About 15 percent of spinal cord injuries are caused by gunshots, knife wounds and other forms of physical violence.
- Sports injuries. Approximately 9 percent of spinal cord injuries result from sports and other athletic activities, including contact sports and diving accidents.
Alcohol is often a factor when injuries to the spinal cord occur. About one in every four injuries of this type is the result of drunk driving or other circumstances involving alcohol use.
Recovering from the financial fallout of a spinal cord injury
The cost of living with a spinal cord injury can be extremely high, often including extensive medical bills and lifelong care as well as loss of income, necessary home modifications and other damages. When a spinal cord injury is caused by someone else's negligence or wrongdoing - as in the case of a drunk driving accident, physical assault or general recklessness - the injured person and his or her family often are able to recover financial compensation through the civil legal system by filing a personal injury lawsuit. To learn more about the options that are available if you or a loved one has suffered a spinal cord injury, contact The Jasmer Law Firm to arrange a consultation.