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Can a car crash paralyze you?

On Behalf of Christian Ayers
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Unfortunately, motor vehicle accidents represent the number one cause of spinal cord injuries in the U.S. Should you damage your spinal cord during a car crash, the result could be partial or total paralysis.

The Mayo Clinic explains that your central nervous system extends from your brainstem to your lower back and contains your spinal cord, the nerves that extend from it, and the vertebrae that surround it. Its purpose is to allow messages to pass back and forth from your brain to the rest of your body. When it becomes injured, the messages cannot get through and you consequently lose most, if not all, of your ability to feel and voluntarily move below your point of injury.

Health care professionals divide your back into five regions as follows:

  1. Cervical (neck) region with seven vertebrae
  2. Thoracic (neck to waist) region with 12 vertebrae
  3. Lumbar (waist to lower back) region with five vertebrae
  4. Sacral (lower back to tailbone) region with five fused vertebrae
  5. Coccyx (tailbone) region with four fused vertebrae

If your SCI occurs in your lumbar or lower thoracic region, the result is paraplegia, the partial or total inability to move your legs, feet and your torso below your waist. If your SCI occurs in your upper thoracic or cervical region, the result is quadraplegia, a/k/a tetraplegia, the partial or total inability to move all four of your limbs and your torso below your neck.

Both paraplegia and quadriplegia make it impossible for you to stand or walk. You therefore become confined to a wheelchair. Since you cannot control any of your muscles below your point of injury, you also cannot control your bladder or bowel. Quadriplegia represents a constant life-threatening situation, making it difficult for you to breathe. cough, etc. It also renders you incapable of providing for your daily needs including eating, drinking, bathing, etc.