What Does A Spinal Cord Do?
The role of the central nervous system is to control the majority of the functions of both the body and the mind. Simply put, the brain interprets all of the information we receive from our senses and internal organs, processes them, then tells our body how to react. For example, if your hand touches a hot stove, your brain will tell your body to move your hand away as quickly as possible. So where does the spinal cord enter into the picture? Well, the spinal cord acts as the main conduit between the brain and the body. In other words, it is through the spinal cord that the messages from the brain to the body travel. If the spinal cord becomes injured, then the messages between the brain and body are no longer clearly relayed.
Understanding the Spinal Cord's Role in the Central Nervous System
The spinal cord is comprised of neural pathways. In order for a message to go from the brain to the body, that message, or impulse, is passed from neuron to neuron through junctions called synapses. This process continues until the message reaches its final destination, such as muscle, gland, or other non-neural cell.
The central nervous system is organized in a way that allows certain parts of the spinal cord to control and affect certain parts of the body. Messages transmitting pain, movement, temperature, touch, and vibration regarding the skin, joints, muscles, and internal organs are all relayed through the spinal cord.
You would think that with a job this important the central nervous system would be protected, and it is. As a matter of fact, the central nervous system is one of the best-protected systems in the entire body, defended by the bones of the skull and spinal column. Unfortunately, when these bones are injured or fractured they can compromise the soft tissue in the spinal cord, causing permanent damage.
Many people don’t understand why the spinal cord isn’t able to heal itself like the other parts of our body. After all, if the skin is injured on your leg, it regenerates and heals itself. If you strain a muscle, it repairs itself. But the spinal cord is different. That’s because some of the cells in the central nervous system are so complex and specialized that they don’t have the ability to regenerate.
The Four Segments of the Spinal Cord
Going from top to bottom, these are the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral segments. Injury to a certain segment of the cord will generally affect the parts of the body below the point of injury. Depending upon the severity and extent of the injury, there will be varying loss of movement and sensation. Damage to the spinal cord can also affect bodily functions such as breathing, bowel and bladder function, hormone release, temperature control, and movement of food through the stomach and intestines. It bears repeating that no two spinal cord injuries behave exactly alike.