SCI Awareness Month: What is a spinal cord injury?

SEPTEMBER IS SPINAL CORD INJURY AWARENESS MONTH AND WE WANT TO FOCUS THIS MONTH ON ALL THINGS SPINAL CORD INJURY.

APPROXIMATELY 18,000 PEOPLE INCUR A SPINAL CORD INJURY EVERY YEAR AND SOMEWHERE BETWEEN 250,000-370,000 PEOPLE IN THE UNITED STATES HAVE A SPINAL CORD INJURY. SPINAL CORD INJURIES CAN BE CAUSED BY TRAUMA OR ILLNESS. TRAUMATIC PHYSICAL EVENTS LIKE CAR ACCIDENTS, DIVING ACCIDENTS, PHYSICAL VIOLENCE ETC ARE THE MOST COMMON WAY TO INCUR A SCI. YOU CAN ALSO DEVELOP AN SCI FROM ILLNESSES SUCH AS MENINGITIS AND TRANSVERSE MILITIAS. SPINAL CORD INJURES ARE DEFINED AS, “DAMAGE TO ANY PART OF THE SPINAL CORD OR NERVES AT THE END OF THE SPINAL CANAL”. THIS DAMAGE CAN LEAVE A PERSON WITH A RANGE OF PARALYSIS FROM SEVERE TO NON EXISTENT.

EVERY SPINAL CORD INJURY PRESENTS DIFFERENTLY, THEREFORE COMPARISON BETWEEN SPINAL CORD INJURIES ARE DIFFICULT.

A QUADRIPLEGIC OR TETRAPLEGIC IS DEFINED AS: “A PERSON AFFECTED BY PARALYSIS OF ALL FOUR LIMBS”

A PARAPLEGIC IS DEFINED AS: “A PERSON AFFECTED BY PARALYSIS OF THE LEGS AND LOWER BODY.”


THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN QUADRIPLEGICS AND PARAPLEGICS IS WHERE THE SPINAL CORD INJURY OCCURS ON THE SPINAL COLUMN. WHEN THE INJURY IS IN THE CERVICAL SPINE AREA (THE NECK) THE PERSON IS CONSIDERED A QUADRIPLEGIC. THE NERVES IN THE CERVICAL AREA CONTROL THE UPPER BODY SUCH AS THE ARMS, HANDS, CHEST, LUNGS, ETC. WHEN THE INJURY OCCURS HERE, TYPICALLY THE PERSON WILL EXPERIENCE SOME LEVEL OF PARALYSIS FROM THEIR INJURY LEVEL DOWN. A PARAPLEGIC HAS AN INJURY IN THE THORACIC OR LUMBAR SECTION OF THE SPINE. THIS SECTION CONTROLS THE MIDDLE AND LOWER BODY. TYPICALLY PARAPLEGICS HAVE FULL USE OF ARM AND HAND FUNCTION AND THEIR PARALYSIS STARTS AT THE LEVEL OF INJURY AND CONTINUES BELOW THAT.

THE “LEVEL OF INJURY” REFERS TO THE SPECIFIC VERTEBRAE WHERE THE TRAUMA TOOK PLACE. THIS IS ALSO HOW PEOPLE WILL GENERALLY DEFINE THEIR LEVEL OF FUNCTION. FOR EXAMPLE, A PERSON CAN SAY “I AM A C4 QUADRIPLEGIC”. THIS MEANS THE PERSON’S LEVEL OF INJURY WAS AT THE 4TH VERTEBRAE IN THE CERVICAL SECTION OF THE SPINE AND THEY CAN EXPECT TO HAVE THE FUNCTION OF WHAT THAT VERTEBRAE CONTROLS. THE HIGHER THE NUMBER, THE MORE FUNCTION A PERSON TYPICALLY HAS.

THE "TERM “AFFECTED” IS THE KEY TERM IN THESE DEFINITIONS. AFFECTED MEANS ANY FORM OF CHANGE BECAUSE OF THE PARALYSIS. SO QUADRIPLEGICS MAY BE ABLE TO USE THEIR ARMS AND HANDS, BUT MAY HAVE LOSS OF FEELING AND SENSATION AND VICE VERSA. THIS COULD ALSO MEAN SOME MUSCLES AND FUNCTIONS ARE LEFT UNHARMED WHILE OTHER MUSCLES AND FUNCTIONS ARE COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. THIS IS WHY NO 2 QUADS OR PARAS ARE ALIKE.



THE SPINAL CORD IS LIKE A HIGHWAY CARRYING INFORMATION FROM THE BRAIN TO THE BODY. THERE ARE MILLIONS OF LANES ON THIS HIGHWAY, AND WHEN A PERSON HAS A SCI, SOME OF THE LANES MAY BE DAMAGED WHILE OTHERS ARE LEFT IN TACT. WHEN A SPINAL CORD IS BRUISED OR DAMAGED, IT IS ONE OF THE ONLY PARTS OF THE BODY THAT DOES NOT REGENERATE OR HEAL FULLY, WHICH IS WHY PARALYSIS IS TYPICALLY PERMANENT.

AS OF NOW THERE IS NO CURE TO THIS CONDITION HOWEVER THERE ARE A LOT OF TREATMENTS AND THERAPIES THAT CAN IMPROVE A PERSON’S QUALITY OF LIFE.


THOUGH LIVING WITH PARALYSIS CAN BE A STRUGGLE, IT IS IMPORTANT TO KNOW THAT THERE IS PLENTY OF LIFE TO BE LIVED AFTER AN SCI. THERE IS A LOT OF HEALING AND PHYSICAL HARD WORK THAT IS INVOLVED IN THE PROCESS, BUT THERE ARE SO MANY ACTIVITIES AND RESOURCES FOR THOSE LIVING WITH A SCI. WE ARE OBVIOUSLY NOT A MEDICAL PUBLICATION, BUT WE ARE LIVING EXPERTS OF WHAT IT IS LIKE TO HAVE AND LIVE WITH A SPINAL CORD INJURY.

HERE ARE SOME OF OUR FAVORITE PLACES FOR INFORMATION REGARDING SPINAL CORD INJURIES:


HTTPS://WWW.CHRISTOPHERREEVE.ORG/

HTTPS://WWW.AZSPINAL.ORG/

HTTPS://WWW.SCI-INFO-PAGES.COM/


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