Complete Spinal Cord Injuries: Causes and Effects

silhouette of a wheelchairThe spinal cord is one of the most vital parts of the body. Connected to the base of the brain, the spinal cord contains nerves that carry messages to and from the brain and body. The brain and spinal cord together make up the central nervous system (CNS), which works together with the peripheral nervous system (PNS) to control motor functions (both autonomic and conscious actions) and provide for sensory information. When damage occurs to the spinal cord, the results are never good. However, some injuries sustained may be more permanent than others.

In this article, an explanation of the causes and effects of a complete spinal cord injury will be presented. We will also discuss who is at risk for complete spinal cord injuries.

Understanding the Spinal Cord

There are three main parts of the spine: the bones that protect the spinal cord; the spinal cord itself, which is made up of a column of nerves that run from the brain down the back; and, finally, the discs, which provide cushion between the spinal cord and the vertebrae.

For medical purposes, the spinal cord is considered in four sections that assist in various body functions (in order from highest on the back to the lowest): cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral. Each of these sections controls sensation to specific parts of the body. For example, the cervical region is what sends messages to the shoulders, head, and neck. Additionally, it is responsible for control of the hands and arms. It even regulates the diaphragm, which is important for the act of breathing. If the cervical region is damaged, these parts of the body would not be responsive.

What Is a Complete Spinal Cord Injury?

For a spinal cord injury to be classified as a complete spinal cord injury, there is a total loss of function and feeling below the injured area. If the cervical region of the spine has been damaged, tetraplegia will occur—meaning that a person typically loses feeling and function from the neck down. If the thoracic region is damaged, a person will likely lose feeling in the chest, abdomen, some of the back muscles, and down through the legs—resulting in paraplegia.

What Are the Effects of a Complete Spinal Cord Injury?

The most debilitating effects are experienced by those who have been injured higher on the spine. Although each person may experience various negative effects of a complete spinal cord injury, these are some of the adverse effects commonly seen:

  • Loss of feeling in the arms and hands
  • Loss of feeling in the upper body
  • Inability to feel or use the lower body (e.g., legs, feet)
  • Lacking ability to breathe or cough on one’s own
  • Struggling with speech
  • Inability to complete daily tasks
  • Inability to drive

What Causes Complete Spinal Cord Injuries and Who Is at Risk?

According to the Foundation for Spinal Cord Injury Prevention, Care, and Cure, overall, more men than women experience spinal cord injuries. In particular, males aged 18-32 are at the highest risk of sustaining these types of injuries. Regardless of age or gender, complete spinal cord injuries may be sustained in a variety of ways. A high number of complete spinal cord injuries have occurred due car accidents, motorcycle accidents, and other types of motor vehicle accidents. Some people suffer spinal cord injuries due to falling from a distance, like off of a ladder. Sustaining a sports injury is another likely cause of damage to the spinal cord.

If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident and have been diagnosed with a complete spinal cord injury, you will likely need financial compensation for your damages. Compensation can include money for your physical, mental, and emotional damages as well as your income losses and loss of independence. We would be honored to assist you through this process. Please call our law office for a free consultation at (703) 691-5919 or fill out a short form on our Contact Us page, and we will connect with you soon.