What is spinal cord damage?
Spinal cord damage occurs when the spinal cord is severed or damaged, resulting in the nerve pathways being blocked or impaired, which often impacts your movement level. The amount of movement, strength, and sensation you continue to experience depends on where the remaining impairment in the spinal cord is and the severity of the injury.
Causes of spinal cord damage
Anyone can experience spinal cord damage. It can happen from a fall, an accident, playing sport or a medical condition. Some of the more common ways people can experience spinal cord damage is:
- Spinal cord injury – fall, car accident, sporting accident etc.
- Neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, motor neuron disease, stroke or transverse myelitis
- Infectious diseases like poliomyelitis (leading to the late effects of polio or post-polio cyndrome)
Spinal cord injury
Spinal cord injury happens when your spinal cord has experienced a physical trauma. This requires immediate treatment including surgery to minimise inflammation, stabilise the injury site and avoid further injury to your spinal cord. Metal plates and screws are often used and depending on your injury you may be required to wear a halo ring and jacket or a hard collar to keep your neck still and the vertebrae in proper alignment.
There are some neurological conditions that can affect your spinal cord, resulting in paralysis. If and how these conditions affect you depends on several factors, including the stage of your condition and your general health, as well as other external factors. Although each neurological condition is different, and unique to individuals, generally these conditions affect how the nervous system works and interfere with the way nerve impulses reach your brain.
Poliomyelitis, more commonly referred to as “polio” is a highly infectious viral disease that invades the nervous system and causes paralysis. The disease was eradicated in Australia in the year 2000, however many survivors experience symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue, pain, and mobility impairment, decades after their original infection. These symptoms are generally known as the late effects of polio.
Difference between paraplegia and quadriplegia
The spinal cord is divided into several regions:
- The Cervical Spine. Numbered C1-C7, this section of the spine contains the vertebrae that form the neck.
- The Thoracic Spine. Numbered T1-T12, the vertebrae here form the upper back.
- The Lumbar Spine. Numbered L1-L5, these vertebrae are near the base of the spine. Additionally, the spinal cord itself ends somewhere near the L1 or L2 vertebra.
- The Sacral Spine. Numbered S1-S5, this is the very end of the spinal column, but the spinal cord itself does not reach this region. Instead, the sacral spine contains spinal nerves.
Paraplegia generally refers to paralysis of both legs, and sometimes the lower abdomen. Paraplegia is caused by damage to the spinal cord in the thoracic region (often referred to as the vertebrae ‘bones’ between T1&T12).
Quadriplegia refers to those who have spinal damage in the neck region (C4 or higher). People with quadriplegia will have partial or complete paralysis of their arms. The term quadriplegia is used because the four limbs are affected (two arms and two legs).
Immediate effects of spinal cord damage
Spinal cord damage affects everyone differently, but there are some common things that happen to you and your body once your cord is damaged.
- Loss of bladder and bowel control
- Movement will be limited in affected limbs
- You may be more susceptible to pressure sores
- Increase and decrease in blood pressure
Although these impacts can be very confronting, they are expected when the spinal cord is damaged. Through persistence, work and support you can regain independence and life will return to a ‘new normal’. At Spinal Life, we have a team of highly skilled staff with extensive experience to support people with spinal cord damage and related physical disabilities. Contact our friendly team today to find out how we can help you.