One of the most frightening and life-altering injuries one can suffer in an accident is that involving the spine. According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC), there are nearly 18,000 new cases of spinal cord injuries in the U.S. annually. An even more startling statistic is that there are anywhere from 250,000 to more than 300,000 people with spinal cord injuries in America today.
This number only includes those people—mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, friends, and loved ones—who didn’t “die at the location of the incident” that caused their injury.
What is a spinal cord injury?
A spinal cord injury, or SCI, is damage to the spinal cord that results in loss of function (muscles don’t work properly), sensation (the feeling of numbness, tingling, or pain), or mobility (an inability to move). In a “broken back” or “broken neck,” the vertebrae, the bones that surround and support the spinal cord, may be fractured or broken without doing damage to the cord itself.
The spinal cord is the “highway” along which nerve impulses travel between the brain and the rest of the body. This is the central nervous system. Nerves outside the central nervous system are part of the peripheral nervous system, and yet more parts of this complex network are the sympathetic parasympathetic nervous systems, which control involuntary functions, including blood pressure.
A spinal cord injury, therefore, is one in which the damage causes a disruption of the signal between the nerves and the brain, leading to either limited function or temporary or permanent paralysis.
What are the most common spinal cord injuries and how do they happen?
Spinal cord injuries may be “complete” or “incomplete.” According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH): “An incomplete injury means that the ability of the spinal cord to convey messages to or from the brain is not completely lost. People with incomplete injuries retain some sensory function and may have voluntary motor activity below the injury site.
A complete injury prevents nerve communications from the brain and spinal cord to parts of the body below the injury site. There is a total lack of sensory and motor function below the level of injury, even if the spinal cord was not completely severed.”
Severity is also linked to the area of the spine that is injured. Spinal anatomy includes three major “regions”:
- Cervical spine: The neck, which comprises vertebrae C-1 through C-7 and has the greatest range of motion.
- Thoracic spine: The 12 vertebrae of the thoracic spine are connected to the ribs and include T-1 through T-12. Because these vertebrae are connected to the ribs, the main function of the thoracic spine is to protect the heart and lungs.
- Lumbar spine: The low back area supports the thoracic and cervical spine. The vertebrae L-1 through L-5 of the lumbar region are the largest, but also the most stressed, as they carry the most weight.
The other areas of the spine include the sacrum, consisting of five fused vertebrae, which sit below the lumbar, and the four fused vertebrae of the coccyx, which is the very end of the spine.
The higher in the spine in which an injury occurs, the more severe the damage. As such, an injury in the cervical spinal cord is the most serious, and generally includes the greatest number of complications. A high cervical cord injury is frequently fatal. The leading cause of spinal cord injuries is vehicular accidents, followed by falls.
Paraplegia is the complete or partial paralysis of both legs, and sometimes the abdomen. In addition to the loss of the ability to walk, complications may include:
- Bladder and bowel incontinence
- Sexual dysfunction/impotence
- Respiratory complications, including pneumonia
- Autonomic dysreflexia (involuntary nervous system reaction to stimulation that can result in changes in heart rate, increased blood pressure, excessive sweating, etc.)
- Circulation disorders
Quadriplegia—also called tetraplegia—results from injuries that occur in the cervical region and cause paralysis of both legs and both arms. Actor Christopher Reeves suffered this type of injury in an equestrian accident, leaving him in a wheelchair and dependent on a ventilator for the rest of his life. In addition to the complications associated with paraplegia, quadriplegia can also cause:
- Pressure sores
- Impaired breathing; in high cervical injuries, a respirator may be required
- Limited head and neck movement
Individuals suffering from either paraplegia or quadriplegia are likely to suffer depression caused by reduced quality of life.
Our League City personal injury lawyers can help quadriplegic and paraplegic victims get justice for their injuries
If you or a family member has suffered a life-changing injury, we will make sure that the person or entity who caused the accident is held accountable for their reckless or negligent actions. In addition to getting compensation for current medical bills, we help make sure that you are also compensated for future medical help, rehabilitation, equipment, loss of wages, pain, and suffering, and more.
To talk to one of our experienced personal injury attorneys, please contact us online or call us at 281-645-5000 for a free and confidential consultation.