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How Your Brain Communicates With Your Spinal Cord

On Behalf of | Mar 2, 2014 | Spinal Cord Injuries

You absolutely hate putting up Christmas lights. You’re afraid you’ll fall and break something. Despite your fear, every year your wife and in-laws convince you to climb up that ladder and string 50 strands of lights on the roof. However, due to the fact that you twisted your ankle last week, you foolishly thought you would get out of it this year. You were painfully wrong.

After much protesting, your father-in-law held the ladder as you hobbled up the rungs one at a time. Although shaky, you managed to clip ten strands before disaster struck. As you reached down to untangle the eleventh strand, you lost your balance and fell 12 feet, landing backward on top of the bare rosebushes.

Your father-in -law helped you inside the house and sat you down on the couch.  He took off your coat and checked your back. He told you that you already had a large bruise forming across your spine but besides that it didn’t look like you had broken anything. You told your wife that you were in pain but it could have been worse. She managed to pull your boots off and told you to flex your feet so she could take off your wet socks. Then you noticed it. You couldn’t move your feet.

You tried with all your might to point your toes, but all you could manage was a slight twitch. What’s wrong? Why won’t your feet move? Could a simple bruise cause partial paralysis like that? Is your spine more damaged than you initially thought?

Brain to Spinal Cord to Body: Communication and Control

If you want to flex your foot, your brain must send the proper message to your foot muscles and bones to make it happen. Although this action may seem relatively simple, it requires a complicated spinal and neurological process. In order for your brain to control your muscles, it must have a clear path to relay neurological messages to each muscle. Your spinal cord is essentially this pathway.

Your spinal cord is made up of two different types of nerves that act as biological messengers for your brain. These nerve “messengers” are called upper motor neurons and lower motor neurons.

  • Upper motor neurons (UMN). Upper motor neurons are located in the brain stem (at the top of the spinal cord) and in your cerebral cortex (the brain’s motor function center). They act as your brain’s main connection to your spinal cord and carry your brain’s motor commands directly to the delivery neurons in your spinal cord.
  • Lower motor neurons (LMN). Lower motor neurons are located throughout your spinal cord and function as specific regional messengers for body control. The UMNs deliver the motor command to the LMNs and the LMNs deliver the message directly to the designated muscles or organs for which the command is intended

When your brain decides that your foot needs to be flexed, it signals your spinal cord to deliver the command to your foot. That command then travels through the spinal cord’s UMNs to the smaller LMNs and then the LMNs relay the message to your foot muscles, causing them to contract and flex.

Spinal Cord Paralysis

As a result of these two separate but equally important nerve functions, when an injury to the spine disrupts the pathway, it can cause several different types of paralysis. If the injury damages a lower motor neuron, it could cause partial paralysis or loss of control to that LMN’s specific body part, and damage to multiple LMNs can lead to selective paralysis throughout your body. On the other hand, if the UMNs are damaged, the injury could lead to complete paralysis of your entire body.

This is why it is not only important to know the importance of your spinal cord and how it functions, but also your risks if you suffer an SCI. If you injure your back or experience numbness in your limbs after a back injury, talk to your doctor immediately about spinal cord risks and treatment.

Taking Back Control

SCI treatment and recovery can be long and arduous and extremely expensive. Contact us today for a free consultation about whether you’re entitled to damages and compensation for your spinal cord injury. We can help you get the money you need and deserve for your treatment. Call today!

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