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Spinal Cord Injuries and Disorders


To understand SCI, first , it is important to understand the basic anatomy of the vertebral column, the spinal cord and associated spinal nerves, its vascular supply, the spinal tracts within the spinal cord and the autonomic nervous system.

What is a Spinal Cord Injury?

A spinal cord injury is damage or trauma to the spinal cord that causes loss of movement and feeling below the site of injury that can occur from either a traumatic injury or from a disease to the vertebral column.

Understanding Spinal Cord Injury

To understand SCI, first , it is important to understand the basic anatomy of the vertebral column.  The vertebral column (Figure below) is composed of 33 tiny bones called vertebrae.

It protects the spinal cord. The spinal cord is approximately 18-inches long and runs from the base of the brain down to the lower part of the back. It is consists of spinal tracts that carry messages back and forth between the brain and different parts of the body. There are 31 pairs of spinal nerves; these includes 8 cervical, 12 thoracic, 5 lumbar, 5 sacral and 1 coccygeal.that runs through the middle of the vertebrae. The vertebral column is consists of four sections; seven cervical, twelve thoracic, five lumbar, five sacral and four coccygeal vertebrae. The intervertebral discs separate each vertebrae and serve or act like shock absorbers. Ligaments hold the vertebrae together and function to stabilize the vertebral column. These ligaments act to limit flexion and extension of the back and neck.column, the spinal cord and associated spinal nerves, its vascular supply, the spinal tracts within the spinal cord and the autonomic nervous system.

 

Functional Levels

Types of Spinal Cord Injuries

Traumatic
Injury to the spinal cord occurs when the delicate spinal cord is compressed, contused, severed, distracted, transected, or suffers an interruption of blood supply that can lead to some degree of motor and /or sensory deficit. Movement and function may be lost depending on the location and extent of the injury. Most common causes of traumatic SCI are motor vehicle accidents, falls, sports and violence.

Non-Traumatic
Injury to the spinal cord caused by spinal cord tumors, infections, blood vessel interruption and loss of blood supply to spinal cord, or birth defects.

Complete
Total disruption of the cord with complete loss of motor and sensory function below the level of injury. There is the absence of sensory or motor function in the lowest sacral segments (S4 or S5 area, or anal area).

Incomplete
There is preservation of motor and sensory functions below the level of the lesion (NLI) that includes the lowest sacral segments.

Tetraplegia
The preferred term instead of quadriplegia, describes the condition of a person with SCI in the cervical level. There is a loss of motor and sensory function in the cervical segments of the spinal cord. This individual can experience a loss of feeling and/ or movement in their head, neck, shoulder, arms and/ or upper chest.

Paraplegia
Describes the condition of a person who has loss and / or not able to move the lower parts of his/her body. It can affect the chest, stomach, hips, pelvic organs, legs and feet.