Nerve damage never heals. As a result, a nerve injury can permanently disable you from working or even performing essential daily activities like driving, cooking, and shopping.
But when you damage the nerves of your spinal cord, you will suffer catastrophic effects. These nerves connect your brain and body. After an injury, you will suffer partial or total paralysis below the injury site. Depending on the location of the injury, you could lose the ability to move or feel your legs, abdomen, chest, or arms.
What Are the Functions of the Spinal Cord?
Your central nervous system includes your brain and spinal cord. The brain controls the nervous system by collecting sensory information about your body and its surroundings. It uses those sense impressions to control both the voluntary and involuntary systems in your body. Everything from chewing to sweating happens due to the brain.
The spinal cord carries signals between your body and your brain. This bundle of 31 pairs of nerves exits the base of the skull and travels down the spine.
At each vertebra, a pair of spinal cord nerves branches away from the spine to form a nerve root. This nerve root forms a communication hub for a section of your body. The nerve root further branches into peripheral nerves that control individual muscles and organs.
Nerve cells communicate using electrically charged molecules called ions. When neurotransmitters trigger a nerve cell, ions travel from inside the cell to its surface. The next nerve cell detects the change in electrical charge and releases its ions. This process repeats down the nerve to carry the signal to its destination.
A severed nerve cannot carry nerve signals. Just as an electric charge cannot travel along a cut wire, nerve signals cannot jump the gap created by a severed nerve. As a result, signals from the body, such as pain, pressure, temperature, and texture, cannot reach the brain. Similarly, control signals from the brain cannot reach the body.
What Can Cause a Spinal Cord Injury?
Your spinal cord could get severed in two main ways:
Your spinal cord travels through the spinal canal. This canal is formed from openings in the vertebrae that make up your spine. This arrangement protects your spinal cord while still allowing your back to bend and twist.
When hit by a powerful force, a vertebra can fracture. The fractured vertebra can sever the spinal cord. A bone fragment could push into the spinal canal and sever the nerves of the spinal cord, or the entire vertebra could dislocate and sever the spinal cord if the fracture breaks off the part of the vertebra attached to the ligaments that hold it in place.
Spine fractures can happen in falls, including slip and fall accidents, when your feet slip forward and you fall onto your back and neck. They can also result from car accidents. In a car crash, your body whips back and forth, stretching and crushing your spine. These stresses can break the vertebrae.
Penetrating Spinal Cord Injury
If an object penetrates the back, it can enter the spinal canal and sever the spinal cord. This type of injury can result from an assault. A knife blade or bullet in the back can strike the spinal cord.
These injuries can also happen accidentally. Falls onto sharp objects or debris during a motorcycle accident or workplace accident can drive the object between the vertebrae and cut the nerves inside the spinal column.
What Are the Characteristics of a Spinal Cord Injury?
Two characteristics of a spinal cord injury will determine its severity and symptoms:
Spinal Cord Injury Severity
Spinal cord injuries are either complete or incomplete. A complete spinal cord injury severs all the nerves at the injury site. The accident victim suffers total paralysis since no nerve signals can travel between the brain and body across the injury.
In an incomplete spinal cord injury, some but not all of the nerves get severed at the injury site. This injury produces partial paralysis since some nerve signals can still get through.
Spinal Cord Injury Location
The level of the spinal cord injury will determine which body parts are affected. Since nerve pairs exit the spinal canal at each vertebra, the number of nerves in the spinal cord falls as it travels down your back.
Thus, a lower injury damages fewer nerves than a higher injury. And since the nerve roots at each vertebra control the body region at that level, lower injuries will affect fewer body regions than higher injuries.
An injury at the top of the spinal cord will usually result in death. Nerves at this level control the entire body, including the chest muscles that make breathing possible.
A spinal cord injury in the neck will affect all four limbs. This injury, called quadriplegia or tetraplegia, produces paralysis from the neck down.
A spinal cord injury in the back will affect the legs but not the arms. This type of injury, referred to as paraplegia, causes paralysis below the chest or waist, depending on the injury site.
What Are the Symptoms of a Spinal Cord Injury?
Nerves carry signals to control movement and sensation. The nerves also control the organs. A total spinal cord injury will cut off all these nerve signals.
As a result, you could experience:
- Loss of bowel and bladder control
- Sexual dysfunction
- Inability to sweat
If you have a spinal cord injury in your neck, you might even need a respirator to help you breathe.
How Can You Get Compensation for a Spinal Cord Injury?
When a spinal cord injury happens in the course and scope of your job, you can pursue a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. These benefits include full medical treatment and permanent disability payments.
If your injury did not happen at work but resulted from someone else’s negligence, you can pursue a personal injury claim against the at-fault party. Your injury compensation can cover your medical expenses, income loss, pain, suffering, and other losses.A spinal cord injury is one of the most catastrophic injuries you can suffer. To learn about the compensation you might be entitled to for your spinal cord injury, contact the Law Offices of Mathys & Schneid for a free consultation.