A spinal cord injury (SCI) happens when there is damage to cells in the spinal cord. It causes a loss of communication between the brain and the parts of the body below the injury. Some effects of a SCI may include low blood pressure, inability to regulate blood pressure effectively, reduced control of body temperature, inability to sweat below the level of injury, and severe chronic pain. Our spine starts at the Cervical spine is from C1-C8, then the Thoracic Spine is from T1-T12, the Lumbar spine is from L1-L5 and the Sacral spine is from S1-S5.
The spinal cord is the bundle of nerves that transmits nerve impulses from the brain to the rest of the body and vice versa. It is 17 inches (43 cm) long in women and in men it is 18 inches (45 cm) long. It is a fragile cylindrical structure of nervous tissue that extends from the base of the brain stem (C1) to the sacrum (S5). It contains motor and sensory nerve fibers that sends and receives nerve signals to and from all parts of the body. The sensory nerves control involuntary functions of the body such as breathing and our heartbeat. An injury to the spinal cord disrupts the normal signals rendering the patient incapacitated starting at the first vertebrae below the area of the damage.
The most common causes for spinal cord injury are:
- Sports and exercise
- Violence such as gunshot wound
- Alcohol related accidents
- Infections and disease
There are two types of spinal cord injuries: complete and incomplete. A complete spinal cord injury would result in permanent damage to the spinal cord. A patient with complete damage has no control of his body movement and may be bedridden. An incomplete spinal cord injury is partial damage to the spinal cord where the spinal cord retains some ability to convey messages to or from the brain allowing the patient some sensory activities below the site of the injury.
Often spinal cord injury results in a loss of function, such as the ability to walk, loss of control of the bladder, bowel or both. Patients often have trouble walking, have numbness, loss of sensation, have difficulty regulating body temperature, and live with chronic pain.