A spinal cord injury is one of the worst injuries you can experience. It can produce chronic pain, muscle weakness, and even paralysis.
Doctors cannot repair a severed spinal cord. Relieving the symptoms of a pinched spinal cord can rob your back of its strength and flexibility.
Here are some facts about the causes and effects of a spinal cord injury. If your injury was due to the actions or inactions of another party, we’ll also discuss the kinds of compensation that you may be able to pursue for a spinal cord injury.
Table of Contents
The Nervous System
Your brain controls your nervous system. Two sets of nerves extend from your brain into your body.
Cranial nerves run from your brain to your head. They control your facial muscles, eyes, ears, and other structures above your neck.
The spinal cord runs from your brain down your back. The spinal cord controls everything below your neck, including your limbs and your organs.
The nerves of your spinal cord carry signals to control both your voluntary and involuntary functions. Thus, the nerves that control the muscles that move food through your digestive system branch out from your spinal cord. Similarly, the nerves that control your fingers to type branch out from your spinal cord.
Your spinal cord also carries sensory information back to your brain. Information like touch and temperature helps your brain to make decisions and control your body.
The vertebrae of your spine include passageways that align to form the spinal canal. The spinal cord passes through the spinal canal. The vertebrae protect your spine while still providing flexibility for your back.
How a Spinal Cord Injury Happens
The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves. You can visualize the spinal cord as a cable made of many wires. Each wire represents a nerve.
Like wires, nerves carry electrical signals. This allows your body to react mere fractions of a second after your brain forms a thought.
When nerves get damaged, they cannot carry the nerve signals. A severed nerve creates a short circuit that the nerve signal cannot jump. A pinched nerve can become inflamed. The inflammation causes the nerve to lose signals or misfire and send the wrong signals.
Any physical injury that severs or pinches the nerves in the spinal cord can cause a spinal cord injury.
Some examples of injuries that can damage the spinal cord include:
Back or Neck Sprains
Ligaments hold the vertebrae together. If these ligaments stretch or tear, a vertebra can slip out of place. When the vertebra slips out of place, it can impinge on the spinal cord. This impingement can irritate the nerves of the spinal cord, leading to inflammation.
Each vertebra has a body and wing-shaped processes. The spinal canal runs between the body and the processes. When a vertebra fractures, bone fragments can float into the spinal canal and damage the spinal cord.
The ligaments and tendons of the back attach to the processes. A fractured process allows the vertebra to slip out of place and sever or compress the spinal cord.
Discs sit between the vertebrae. These discs cushion the vertebrae and provide flexibility in your back.
Each disc includes a fibrous shell called the annulus. The annulus surrounds a gel-like interior called the nucleus.
When the disc gets compressed, the annulus can bulge. Imagine a force crushing a cylinder into the shape of a barrel. Doctors call this a bulging disc.
The nucleus can also leak through the annulus to create a bump on the side of the disc. Doctors call this a herniated disc.
The bulge or bump on the side of a disc can press on the spinal cord. This pressure can irritate the nerves and cause them to become inflamed.
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal. As the spinal canal narrows, the vertebrae rub the nerves in the spinal cord.
Spinal stenosis often happens due to overuse or a prior injury. If you have a job that places repetitive stress on your back, you can develop spinal stenosis. Similarly, if you get injured in an accident, you may develop spinal stenosis later in life.
Symptoms of a Spinal Cord Injury
A spinal cord injury can produce a range of symptoms, which include:
- Loss of dexterity
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of sensitivity to hot or cold
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
The location of your symptoms will depend on the location of your spinal cord injury. As the spinal cord passes through your spine, nerves branch off. These nerve roots carry the nerves to nearby body regions.
For example, the nerves that control your organs branch off of your spinal cord in your chest and abdomen.
If you experience symptoms in your fingers, hands, wrists, arms, or shoulders, you likely have a spinal cord injury in your neck. If your symptoms appear in your toes, feet, legs, hips, or buttocks, you probably have a spinal cord injury in your lower back.
Risk Factors for a Spinal Cord Injury
Traumatic spinal cord injuries often come from traffic accidents and falls.
In a car accident, the force of the impact causes your spine to hyperextend. As you come to rest, your spine snaps back and compresses. This hyperextension and compression on your spine can fracture vertebrae and crush discs, leading to spinal cord damage.
In a motorcycle accident, pedestrian accident, or bicycle accident, you can injure your back in the primary impact with a vehicle or the secondary impact with the pavement. Either of these injuries can injure the spinal cord by damaging your vertebrae and discs.
Falls, whether an elevated fall or a slip and fall, can fracture vertebrae, compress discs, or sprain ligaments in your back. These injuries can cause a misalignment in your spine that leads to spinal cord injuries.
Compensation for a Spinal Cord Injury
Your economic losses include your medical expenses and lost income. Your non-economic losses include all of the ways your injuries diminished your quality of life.
A spinal cord injury can affect almost every aspect of your life. From chronic pain to weakness and mobility disabilities, your spinal cord injury could interfere with your ability to work and engage in your daily activities. To discuss the injury compensation your spinal cord injury might justify, contact a reputable personal injury lawyer near you. Most offer free consultations, so you’ll have the opportuntity to ask questions and make an informed decision after learning your legal options.
If your injury was due to the actions or inactions of another party, you could be entitled to compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.