Your brain and spinal cord are part of your central nervous system. Without a healthy spinal cord, your brain cannot communicate with your body below your neck. No control signals will travel to your muscles and organs, and no sensory signals will reach your brain.
As a result, you will experience partial or total paralysis. You will permanently lose the ability to control your body. Your spinal cord injury might prevent you from earning a living or caring for yourself.
What Is the Function of Your Nervous System?
Your nervous system includes your brain, spinal cord, and nerves. The primary cell in the nervous system is the neuron. These cells pass signals to each other using charged particles called ions.
When a neuron detects a neurotransmitter, it moves ions from the inside of the cell to its surface. The following neuron in the sequence detects the shift in electrical charge and moves its ions to its surface. The process continues down the nerve.
Neurons carry three types of signals: autonomic, motor, and sensory. Autonomic signals control all your unconscious processes, like heart rate and breathing.
Motor signals travel from the brain to your muscles. They tell the muscles when to contract and relax. The motor signals move your body.
Sensory signals travel from your sense organs to your brain. They give the brain information about your environment so it can control your autonomic and motor functions.
For example, when you touch something hot, you automatically pull your hand away from the hot object. At the same time, your brain automatically triggers your sweat glands to cool off your body.
The spinal cord connects directly to the brain. The spinal cord includes 31 pairs of spinal nerves. Each pair of nerves includes one nerve for your right side and one nerve for your left side. And each spinal nerve controls part of your body.
A pair of spinal nerves exits the spine at each vertebra. Thus, 31 pairs of spinal nerves enter the top of your spine but only six pairs exit at the bottom.
Eight pairs of nerves exit the spine in the cervical spine in the neck. Another twelve pairs exit the thoracic spine behind your ribcage. And five exit the lumbar spine in your lower back. The bottom six pairs exit your tailbone.
How Do Spinal Cord Injuries Happen?
Spinal cord injuries happen when the nerves of the spinal cord get severed. Nerve signals cannot jump across a severed nerve. As a result, the signals cannot travel below the level of the injury.
Significantly, doctors cannot repair a severed spinal cord. As a result, you will suffer permanent paralysis and loss of sensation after a spinal cord injury.
Spinal cord injuries can happen in a few ways:
When a powerful force strikes your spine, it can fracture a vertebra. When a vertebra fractures, the pieces of bone can float into the spinal canal. Once inside the spinal canal, the sharp fragments can cut the spinal cord’s nerves.
An elevated fall or slip and fall accident can produce forces that fracture the spine. The vertebrae can also fracture under a compression force. A common cause of compression forces occurs as your body whips back and forth in a car accident.
Penetrating injuries happen when something pierces your spine and severs your spinal cord. These injuries can happen in almost any accident where you get pushed into something or an object gets propelled into you.
For example, if you are involved in a construction accident, you might fall onto a sharp tool, fencepost, or piece of rebar. The object could push into your spine and sever the nerves of your spinal cord.
The forces involved in an accident can dislocate a vertebra without fracturing it. This can happen if you tear the spine ligaments holding it in place. Suppose that you were involved in a motorcycle accident where you got ejected from your motorcycle. A hard landing could tear the ligaments in your neck and dislocate a vertebra.
What Are the Symptoms of a Spinal Cord Injury?
The symptoms you experience from a spinal cord injury depend on two factors:
Completeness of the Injury
Doctors classify injuries as complete or incomplete. All the spinal nerves get severed when you suffer a complete injury. As a result, you experience total paralysis below the level of the injury. You also have no sensations from your body below the injury.
Some of the nerves get severed, while others remain intact when you suffer an incomplete injury. This injury will leave you partially paralyzed. Thus, you might still have control of some muscles but not others. As a result, you might experience weakness, muscle spasms, and loss of dexterity.
You will also lose some, but not all, sensations. For example, rather than feeling nothing, you might feel pain, tingling, or buzzing.
Level of the Injury
The level of the injury determines the areas affected. Generally speaking, the severity of your paralysis will increase with higher injuries. A spinal cord injury immediately below your skull will kill you. The nerves at the top of the spine control the chest muscles that help you breathe. When they get severed, you will stop breathing and die.
If you suffer a spinal cord injury in your cervical spine, you will experience symptoms from the neck down. Also called quadriplegia, you will experience some amount of paralysis, weakness, spasms, and numbness in your arms, legs, chest, abdomen, and hips.
A spinal cord injury in your thoracic or lumbar spine will produce symptoms in your lower limbs. This type of injury, called paraplegia, will produce symptoms from the waist down.
What Compensation Can You Pursue for a Spinal Cord Injury?
When you suffer a spinal cord injury due to someone else’s negligence, you can pursue compensation. This compensation can cover your economic losses and non-economic losses.
Since spinal cord injuries produce permanent disabilities, you will likely need treatment, therapy, and assistance for the rest of your life. You will have limited mobility regardless of the level and severity of your injury. But if your injuries also affect your upper limbs, you may lose the ability to work, drive, or even dress.
A spinal cord injury is a life-changing injury that will affect everything you do. Contact our law firm George Salinas Injury Lawyers at (210) 225-0909 for a free consultation to learn about the compensation you can seek for your spinal cord injury.