Paralysis From Spinal Cord Injury Depends on Location of Damage

According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, nearly 12,000 new cases of spinal cord injuries (SCI) are diagnosed each year. Although not all SCIs are severe enough to cause permanent damage, the chance that an SCI could lead to partial or complete paralysis is quite high.

So what exactly is paralysis?  How does an SCI cause paralysis?

Types of Paralyzing SCIs

Paralysis is defined as the loss of muscle function and control. Although paralysis can occur as a result of many factors, spinal cord injuries are responsible for more than 25% of paralysis cases.

Ever since the beloved actor and original Superman Christopher Reeve sustained a traumatic spinal cord injury from falling off his horse in 1995, support for SCI paralysis research has grown tremendously. His foundation, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, estimates that over 1.2 million people suffer from SCI paralysis in the United States as a result of the following injury types:  

  • Upper Motor Neuron (UMN) damage. Upper motor neurons are located at the top of your spinal cord and act as message highways between your brain and your spinal cord. When these nerves are damaged, the messages and motor commands of the brain are blocked, causing the nerves in your spinal cord to act on their own. This produces involuntary spasms, seizures and uncontrollable muscle tremors.
  • Lower Motor Neuron (LMN) damage. Lower motor neurons are located throughout your spinal cord and act as pathways for the UMN to communicate with specific muscles and tissues. When an LMN is injured, the damage can result in selective paralysis, depending on the severity of the injury and which LMN was damaged. Each LMN controls a different part of the body, so paralysis and trauma depend on which nerve was affected
  • Mixed damage. Minor injuries to both UMN and LMN can cause selective paralysis as well as seizures, tremors, and spasms without causing complete paralysis.
  • Complete damage (both UMN and LMN). When your UMNs are completely cut off from your LMNs, the brain can’t communicate with any of your nerves and muscles, invariably shutting down all cognitive communication to your body; this results in complete paralysis.

Providing Encouragement, Strength, and Support

Have you suffered or someone you love suffered from a paralyzing spinal cord injury? Want to share your experiences, provide encouragement, vent, or receive support from people like you who have also suffered the effects of an SCI? Just want someone to talk to? Let us know your feelings by leaving your thoughts, encouragements, and questions in the comment section. Not only will we try to respond with advice and inspiration, but our clients and readers will be able to engage with you as well. We will all benefit from your story, so don’t hesitate to let us know how you feel.

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