The spinal cord is less than two feet long in most people but is one of the most important body parts in terms of movement. Damage to the spine can cause temporary or permanent paralysis to one or more body parts. What body part is paralyzed depends upon where the spinal cord is damaged.
The spinal cord is made up of many nerves. It runs from the base of the skull to the waist.
It acts as a major motorway for impulses from the brain to be sent to the nerves which control voluntary and involuntary movement. Most other nerves in the body are somehow connected to the spinal cord. This all-important physical feature is protected by bones called vertebrae and soft tissues.
Spinal cord injuries are caused in two ways – disease or sudden trauma like a car crash, having an extremely heavy object fall onto the person or getting shot in the back. The spinal cord is very well insulated, so it takes a very severe injury indeed to damage the spinal cord. It is possible for a vertebra to be broken and the spinal cord to remain undamaged.
There are many types of diseases or other medical conditions which can weaken the vertebra and cause one or more spinal cord injuries. These diseases include but are not limited to:
Doctors and neurologists classify spinal cord injuries according to which section in the spine the injury is located. These areas control specific parts of the body so the doctor can predict what areas of the body will be affected. Each level is an individual vertebra. Starting at the base of the skull, the levels are:
Doctors often refer to just the first letter (“T4”) for convenience. Any injury in the cervical levels can led to quadriplegia (paralysis from the neck down.) Spinal cord injuries from T1 on down may lead to paralysis of just one limb or two limbs. This paralysis may be total or partial, on just one side of the body or both.
Spinal cord injuries not only cause paralysis to the arms and legs, but it may also cause many other complications that greatly reduce a patient’s quality of life. These include:
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