What is a Spinal Cord Injury?
A spinal cord injury or SCI, happens when there is damage to the spinal cord that blocks communication between the brain and the rest of the body. This affects a person’s sensory (feeling), motor (movement) and reflex messages which reduces the ability to move and feel things below the level of the injury. Generally speaking, the higher up the spinal cord the injury occurs, the more dysfunction the person will experience. Injuries are referred to as complete or incomplete, based on whether any movement and sensation occurs at or below the level of injury.
Each person’s recovery from spinal cord injury is very different, but unfortunately total recovery from a spinal cord injury is very rare.
At present there is no cure for spinal cord injury but there are many doctors and researchers around the world looking for ways to help the nerves to heal themselves and recover.
The effects of spinal cord injury may include the following:
- Loss of movement below the level of the injury
- Loss of sensation below the level of the injury
- Loss of bowel and/or bladder control
- Exaggerated reflexes or spasms
- Alterations in sexual function, sexual sensitivity and fertility
- Pain or intense stinging sensation
Spinal Column Anatomy: The Basics
When an accident and the spinal cord is affected, movement (motor) and sensation (sensory) may be interrupted temporarily or permanently. The facts below explain the function of the spine and how it is structured.
- The skull surrounds the brain.
- The spinal cord is protected and surrounded by rings of bone making up the spinal column called vertebrae.
- The vertebrae and skull are covered in a protective membrane.
- The spinal column, or backbone is made up of the vertebrae and this membrane.
- The spinal cord runs from the base of the skull to the level of the hips and is protected by the backbone
- The spinal cord is about 45cm long and begins at the base of the skull and ends near the last rib, it runs down the middle of the back.
- The spinal cord is the way the brain communicates with the rest of the body allowing people to feel and move.
- Messages are carried to and from the spinal cord through spinal nerves or neurons which fit through openings in the vertebrae.
- Spinal nerves leave the spinal cord in pairs, each on different sides of the body.
- Each nerve is involved in movement and feeling, telling individual body parts how and when to move. They also take messages back to the brain about sensations like pain, temperature and touch.
Levels of injury
To see more about the roles of the spinal cord nerves and the mobility functions affected when an injury occurs please view this PDF.
For further detailed information the following websites are suggested: