There was a time when the prognosis for those suffering a spinal cord injury was bleak. Fortunately, that is changing. Researchers are making significant progress in the understanding and treatment of SCI every day.
In fact, the progress has been so significant that Conquer Paralysis Now believes a cure is within reach. We believe the funding provided and the collaborative nature of the SCI Challenge will accelerate the pace of research to the point that a cure will be possible within the next decade.
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Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) can be caused by traumatic or non-traumatic events. Sports injuries, automobile accidents, diving accidents and falls are common causes of traumatic SCI. The majority of these injuries occur when fragments of bone or vertebrae tear into the spinal cord and disrupt the network of nerves that carries signals through the body.
Diseases such as cancer, arthritis and osteoporosis can cause non-traumatic SCI.
The spinal cord is the most important connecting structure between the brain and the body. It is divided into five sections (top to bottom): the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral and coccygeal regions. Within these regions, 31 pairs of nerves exit the cord. The nerves are numbered and divided by region: 8 cervical, 12 thoracic, 5 lumbar, 5 sacral and 1 coccygeal nerve. Doctors use this numbering system to classify and determine the impact of SCI.
Complete vs. Incomplete SCI
In the least severe cases, SCI can result in minor to intense pain. An incomplete injury refers to SCI where movement and sensation is affected in varying degrees. A more severe SCI can cause complete injury, resulting in total loss of function. Usually, the effects of SCI are felt below the point of injury, so the higher the injury is on the spinal cord, the more significant the impact will be on the body.
The American Spinal Injury Association developed the ASIA impairment scale to determine and classify functionality following an SCI. A test performed by specially trained physicians can determine which classification is appropriate following the injury.
SCI - Spinal Cord Injury
The impact of spinal cord injury (SCI) has on a person’s body can be devastating. Factors such as age, weight and general physical health can also affect a person’s functionality and recovery following an injury.
The higher the injury on the spinal cord, the more significant the impact on the body. Injuries occurring in the upper cervical nerves (C1-C4) are usually the most severe. Symptoms can include paralysis in the arms, hands, legs and torso. The patient may not be able to breathe or cough without assistance. Loss of bowel and bladder control is common and speech may be impaired.
When all four limbs are affected, this is called quadriplegia. A quadriplegic requires 24-hour assistance with most basic life needs including bathing, dressing, eating and getting in and out of bed. Highly specialized wheelchairs and computers have been developed to help patients move about on their own.
Lower cervical nerve (C5 – C8) injuries can be slightly less severe, but will still greatly impact limb movement, especially the hands, wrists, and legs. Some arm movement may be possible. The effects on breathing and speech may not be as severe as a higher cervical nerve injury. Bladder and bowel control will likely be limited. A person with lower cervical nerve injuries will have a greater ability to move with specialized wheelchairs and may be able to drive in an adapted vehicle.
Injuries occurring in the upper thoracic nerves (T1 – T5) primarily affect the torso and legs. This condition is called paraplegia. Because arm and hand function is usually normal, a manual wheelchair may be used and driving in a specially adapted vehicle is possible. Injuries occurring in the lower thoracic nerves (T6 – T12) will also affect the legs and torso, though walking may be possible with the use of braces. Bowel and bladder control will likely be affected.
Injuries to the lumbar nerves (L1 – L5) and sacral nerves (S1 – S5) will affect the hips and legs and limit bowel and bladder control. Wheelchairs and braces will help a patient achieve mobility; walking may still be possible even with sacral nerve damage.