Do you ever have dreams where no matter what you do, you can’t move? You struggle and try with all your might but nothing happens? Then, when you wake up, you’re so frustrated that you get out of bed and walk around just because you’re finally able to do so.
However, if you know someone with a severe spinal cord injury, or have an injury yourself, you know that it isn’t possible to wake up from that nightmare.
There are hundreds of northern Virginians who are currently coping with severe spinal cord injuries that prevent their brains from communicating with their muscles and therefore can’t stand, walk, or move. This doesn’t mean, however, that the spinal cord injury affected their brain functions; it merely affects how their brains communicate with their bodies.
Your spinal cord is basically a bundle of nerves that act as a gateway from the brain to the rest of your body. Your brain controls your body by sending messages through these nerves to the proper muscle, organ or system and essentially, tells them what to do. However, if any of these nerves are cut, blocked, or damaged due to a spinal cord injury, the message can’t be sent and the muscle, organ, or system doesn’t know what to do. This loss of communication is better known as paralysis.
To understand how an injury to the spine affects body function it is best to think of the spinal cord as a tree. The trunk of the tree represents the nerves called upper motor neurons (UMN). This trunk carries all of the brain’s “messages” to the branches of the tree. These branches represent the lower motor neurons (LMN). Unlike the trunk (UMNs), which holds the branches together, LMNs are the nerves that connect to specific muscles or organs to relay the brain’s message.
As a result of the spinal cord having these two different nerve functions, an injury to the spine has an increased chance of causing a lot of damage. Three separate ways a spinal injury can be traumatic are:
- UMN Damage (Trunk Nerves): Messages from the brain are blocked, which cause the LMN nerves to act on their own, producing involuntary spasms.
- LMN Damage (Branch Nerves): Injuries of this sort result in selective paralysis, depending on the severity of the injury and which LMN was damaged.
- Complete Damage (Both UMN and LMN): These injuries result in paralysis, as the brain can’t communicate with the muscles at all.
However, not all spinal cord injuries are severe. In some cases swelling around the nerves temporarily disrupts the communication flow from the brain. As the swelling decreases, the messages slowly get through and the paralysis subsides.
Because there is no way of knowing if your injury is traumatic or not, you should contact a medical professional immediately in order to determine the severity of the injury. If the injury is severe, you may have to undergo surgery, physical therapy, and/or adopt a completely new way of life.
Knowing how difficult this can be, the Northern Virginia spinal cord injury lawyers at Shevlin Smith offer free consultations to discuss your injury and are happy to help provide you with legal advice concerning your health and wellbeing. You don’t have to go through this alone. Please call us at: 703.591.0067.