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Spinal cord injuries: A quick primer on a devastating injury

Many things can lead to a spinal cord injury. Regardless of how the injury occurs, the results can be devastating. It is imperative for all victims, as well as their loved ones, to know some of the basics of this type of injury.

Not all spinal cord injuries are the same. Many different factors impact the manner in which a person will be affected. Here are some points to remember about spinal cord injuries:

Location of the injury

The spinal cord has four different sections: cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral. The area that suffers damage determines the effects that the victim has to live with. Injuries that are higher on the spinal column usually have more serious effects than those that occur near the lower end.

The spinal cord nerves are associated with specific areas of the body. The area controlled by a specific spinal cord nerve is at or below the location of the nerve. For example, a C-1 cervical spinal cord injury can impact the entire body from the neck to the toes. An L5 lumbar spinal cord injury wouldn't impact the arms, but the legs could be impacted.

Type of damage

The type of damage also impacts the severity of the impacts. An incomplete injury still allows the person to have some function below the injury. A complete injury doesn't allow any function below the area of the injury. This means that a complete injury is more likely to cause serious, life-altering problems for the victim.

Both types of spinal cord injuries can occur at any location on the spinal cord. In some cases, the effects of the injury aren't known immediately. Spinal shock, which has to do partially with swelling near the damaged area, can make these injuries worse than they actually are.

Results of injury

Paralysis is one of the most severe impacts of a spinal cord injury. There are three terms that are used to describe paralysis: paraplegia, triplegia, quadriplegia.

Paraplegia means that two like parts are impacted. This is most likely going to be the two legs. Paraplegia is usually the result from an injury around T1 or lower.

Triplegia means that three limbs are impacted. In most cases, this is one arm and both legs. This is usually the result of an incomplete injury.

Quadriplegia means that all four limbs are impacted. This is usually due to an injury at T1 or higher. Some patients with quadriplegia need a ventilator to survive. Injuries at C4 or above are likely to lead to ventilator dependence.

All spinal cord injuries can lead to major expenses. These include medical care but also extend to assistive devices like wheelchairs and home modifications.

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