Spinal cord injuries can be quite serious.
Loss of feeling or mobility is common for spinal cord injuries,
which result from trauma such as car
accidents, industrial accidents, gunshots or from disease
such as polio, spina bifida or Friedreich's Ataxia.
Spinal cord injuries are different from
some common back injuries such
as ruptured disks, spinal stenosis or pinched nerves. In fact,
some skeletal back injuries such as broken vertebra may not damage
the spinal cord and thus not cause paralysis.
The spinal cord itself is a bundle of nerves that carry impulses
to and from the brain to the rest of the body. The brain and spinal
cord make up the Central Nervous System and the nerves outside
the CNS constitute the Peripheral Nervous System. The CNS is what
is involved in spinal cord injuries.
Paralysis can occur when the spinal cord nerves inside the vertebra
are damaged. The vertebra may collapse or crush the spinal cord
nerves severing, damaging or bruising all or some of the nerve
cells. The type of damage to the nerve cells typically determines
the extent of the functional impairments.
Spinal cord injuries are divided into two types: complete and
incomplete. Complete spinal cord injury means that there is no
functioning below the area of the injury whether on a feeling
level of voluntary movement level. An incomplete spinal cord injury
means that there is some feeling and movement below the level
of the injury. A person may be able to move one limb more that
the other or feel a limb that cannot be moved.
Spinal cord injuries do not stop immediately after impact, though.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders
and Stroke, "Damage to the spinal cord does not stop immediately
after the initial injury, but continues in the hours following
trauma. These delayed injury processes present windows of opportunity
for treatments aimed at reducing the extent of disability resulting
from spinal cord injury."
of Spinal Cord Injuries
Aggressive treatment and rehabilitation of those which spinal
cord damage can minimize the injury and restore some movement
to limbs. Since respiratory damage is an indication of the severity
of the spinal cord trauma, approximately one-third of those with
spinal cord damage will need assistance in breathing after the
injury. Medical treatment using steroids or endorphin blockers
is common and use of electrical stimulation devices is being developed.
Physical therapies, skill-building activities and counseling are
part of the typical rehabilitation treatment plan.
Six years ago actor Christopher Reeve brought much national attention
to spinal cord trauma and research. Because of recent efforts
much new technology has developed such as better wheelchairs (even
those that can climb stairs), Voice-activated computer technology
for making phone calls and paying bills online and even research
into treadmill-assisted walking.
New developments in stem cell research hold much promise for
the future for those with spinal cord injuries. With a renewed
emphasis on public awareness, there is more hope than ever before
for those who have been impacted.