The Role of the Spinal Cord
Spinal cord injuries are caused when delicate spinal cord tissue is bruised, torn, or crushed. Spinal cord injuries can be caused by accidents, but can also be caused by diseases or disorders.
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As many as 400,000 Americans are living with spinal cord injuries. Most spinal cord injuries occur between the ages of 16 and 30, and about 82 percent of those who experience spinal cord injuries are male. Motor vehicle accidents account for approximately 44 percent of all spinal cord injuries. Other common causes include:
- Acts of violence, including those that cause knife and gunshot wounds
- Slips and falls
- Sports-related injuries, mostly diving accidents
- Trampoline accidents
Results of Spinal Cord Injury
After the spinal cord has been injured, messages no longer flow through the damaged area, essentially cutting off information between the brain and certain parts of the body. Generally, the functions of the body located above the point of injury will continue to work with no loss of function, while the areas of the body located below the point of injury will be impaired. Impairment can include the following:
- Motor deficit
- Sensory deficit
- Breathing difficulty
- Bowel and/or bladder dysfunction
Level of Injury
Doctors and specialists use the level of injury to most accurately predict which parts of the body are most likely to be affected by loss of movement and sensation. Complete injuries will result in total loss of movement and sensation below the point of injury, while incomplete injuries will result in some degree of loss of movement and sensation below the point of injury. Levels of injury are classified as:
Prognosis of Spinal Cord Injury
The prognosis of a particular spinal cord injury varies depending upon where along the spinal column the spinal cord has been injured, the severity of the injury, and which nerve fibers are damaged. These things can be narrowed down by distinguishing between symptoms like facial paralysis or periodic paralysis. As a general rule of thumb, some recovery can be expected within the first six months following injury. After six months, additional recovery becomes even harder and is why it is important to begin a rehabilitation program as soon as possible after an injury.
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