Your spine is quite literally the backbone of your entire body. Your spinal cord connects your brain’s activity to the rest of your body. These two elements working together create your body’s central nervous system. Without a healthy, functioning spinal cord, people can suffer all types of medical complications, immobility issues, brain disorders, and even death. Here are some common spinal cord injuries and their causes.
What is the Spinal Cord?
Before we discuss how to keep your spinal cord safe from injury, it’s important you understand exactly where it’s located in your body and what its function is. Your spinal cord runs from your neck down to your tailbone. It’s comprised of vertebrae that surrounds and protects the spinal cord and are often referred to as the spinal column. Your spine is responsible for transmitting signals and impulses from your brain to your body.
What is a Spinal Cord Injury?
Injuries to the spinal cord can occur in two different ways. Either by trauma to the nerves themselves or to the tissue, vessels, and vertebrae surrounding the spinal cord. When the spinal cord is damaged, it can result in a loss of function, mobility, and feeling in other parts of the body. In severe cases, spinal cord injuries can result in paralysis.
Injury to the spinal cord doesn’t mean that the cord itself is completely severed. In fact, most injuries occur when the spinal cord and the areas surrounding it are either torn, bruised, or experience significant trauma. Injuries that occur around the spinal cord, such as a break in the surrounding vertebrae, are not considered spinal cord injuries if the spinal cord itself is not damaged.
Types of Spinal Cord Injuries
Now that you have a better understanding of how the spinal cord functions and what classifies a spinal cord injury, let’s take a look at some of the most common types of injuries. Spinal cord injuries are often classified into two categories – complete and incomplete.
A complete injury means that the patient loses all feeling and voluntary mobility below the point of injury. In an incomplete injury, some feeling and mobility may still be present below the injury. Most spinal cord injuries occur due to a fall, sports injury, motor vehicle accident, and other traumatic events like a shooting or physical assault. Other injuries are due to diseases such as spina bifida or polio.
This disease is a relatively common birth defect that affects approximately 4 million babies in the United States. It’s also known as “split spine”. In infants, Spina Bifida is marked by the neural tube not closing all the way during development. The neural tube is a group of cells that form a baby’s brain and spinal cord. Without proper development, the backbone needed to protect an infant’s spine isn’t fully-formed. This can cause mental and physical complications.
There are some milder cases of Spina Bifida that may actually go undetected. This is known as Spina Bifida Occulta (SBO). This condition is marked by a slight gap in the spine, but minimal impact on the spine and surrounding nerves. Myelomeningocele is the most severe form of Spina Bifida. Infants suffering from myelomeningocele have several openings in their spinal canal, allowing the inner sacs of fluid to poke out. This sac houses spinal cord nerves. Because the sac is exposed, it’s susceptible to damage.
Polio is a disease that can affect the spinal cord, cause muscle weakness and even paralysis. Polio is common among young children and that’s why most infants receive a Polio vaccine. The disease can be spread through human feces and infection. Generally, paralysis due to Polio is found in older adults when an additional infection is present. Polio can result in paralysis of the legs, due to spinal cord damage, as well as paralysis in the muscles needed for breathing, which can be fatal in some cases.
It’s not surprising that many contact sports like football, wrestling, and soccer can result in spinal cord injuries. But they aren’t reserved strictly for contact sports. Spinal injuries can occur during skiing, surfing, and diving as well. Any sport where the back or spinal cord is compromised can cause severe injury. The most common form of spinal injury due to sports is a C-spine injury, or cervical spinal cord injury. These types of injuries affect the C1 to C4 nerves in a person’s neck. The result is difficulty breathing, the inability to cough, or control bladder and bowel movements. Paralysis is also a risk and speech can become impaired.
The Importance of the Spinal Cord
Your spinal cord is quite literally the backbone of your body. Always use caution when participating in sports and activities where spinal cord injuries are a risk. Some conditions, such as Spina Bifida, are unavoidable. But for those that aren’t, protecting your spinal cord is an investment in your overall health.
Article Submitted By Community Writer