You will probably have heard the term “life-changing injuries” on news reports accompanying pictures of horrific crashes or accidents. These are vast and varied depending on which area of the body has sustained the injury and how well they will recover from them. One of the worst areas to life changing injuries is the spinal cord. This is split into 4 sections; cervical, lumbar, sacral and thoracic, each of which protects several groups of nerves which effectively control the body and its movements. The types, tetraplegia for example, and severity of injuries to the spinal cord are dependent on which section has been damaged.
Caused by severe damage to the spinal cord within the cervical section or above the first vertebrae in the thoracic section. Tetraplegia and quadriplegia are the same condition and effectively mean that a degree of paralysis exists in both the legs and the arms. Complete spinal cord injury will usually mean that the victim has no movement at all below, or in extreme cases including, the neck. An incomplete spinal cord injury will leave the sufferer with limited mobility which could include paralysis from the waist down.
Loss of Bowel and/or Bladder Control
Injury to the sacral section of the spine can affect the nerves in the hips and groin, back of the thighs, the medial buttocks and the perineal area. This section is just above the tailbone, or coccyx, and the lumbar region. All the organs in the pelvic region are controlled by the sacral nerves including sex organs, bowels and bladder. Common conditions rising from sacral injuries include loss of bladder and/or bowel control and ostomy surgery may be needed. As the sexual organs are also affected men can lose the use of their penis and women lose all sensation and become infertile.
Damage to the nerves in the thoracic area of the spinal cord can result in paraplegia. This is described as the loss of movement or sensation in the legs, sexual region, bowel and bladder. A popular misconception is that paraplegics suffer total paralysis and this isn’t the case. Paraplegics are able to experience anything from slightly impaired leg movements to complete loss of movement between the feet and the chest. Those suffering from paraplegia have full use of their hands and arms.
If the nerves in the cervical area, or neck, suffer damage the effects vastly differ depending which nerves have been damaged. When the damage is severe the victim can no longer breathe by themselves and suffers from respiratory failure. This is one of the chief causes of death in those who have suffered a spinal cord injury. The respiratory muscles are impaired, the vital capacity reduced, a cough ineffective, greatly reduced compliance in the lungs and chest wall all contribute to respiratory dysfunction.
Damage to spinal cords covers a very wide spectrum in terms of how far reaching the after effects are. A simple whiplash injury is effectively an SCI that, whilst painful, is not life changing. Damage your spinal cord just a few inches south. However, and it can be a very different story.