The way a Cook County patient's body responds to spinal damage is dependent upon the location and type of injury. Spinal cord injuries are diagnosed as complete or incomplete – there is or isn't at least partial sensation below the point of injury. The initial loss of the ability to move or function doesn't mean the loss is permanent.
The fragile spinal cord is surrounded by the armor of bones. Stacked vertebrae are padded by rubber-like discs. When this force field is damaged, messages from the brain are short circuited or cut off.
Spinal injuries may be the result of bone fractures, compression and dislocations. Victims also may suffer hyperflexion and hyperextension injuries. These injuries are caused by an exaggerated backward or forward bending of the spine.
The spinal column, which encloses the spinal cord nerve tissue, is divided into four sections. An injury along the spinal column is identified by these sections and bone numbers within the region. For instance, an S1-S3 injury would refer to damage to the lowest three bones of the sacral region, sometimes referred to as the tailbone.
The sacral region is comprised of five bones. Above this area are five bones at the lumbar level, 12 vertebrae in the thoracic or chest region and eight cervical or neck vertebrae. Since damage falls below the area of injury, cervical spinal cord damage has the potential to cause the most widespread paralysis.
An injury in the C1 through C8 region can result in quadriplegia, the partial or full paralysis of all limbs. Breathing, excretory and sexual functions may be affected as well. Thoracic, lumbar and sacral injuries generally do not have an effect upon upper limbs but may include nerve damage to areas like the abdomen, hips, buttocks and back.
Victims have the right to take legal action when serious injuries like these are caused by someone else's negligence.
Source: Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, "What is my injury all about, and what is meant by complete vs. incomplete?" Nov. 11, 2014