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The spine is composed of a series of vertebrae wrapped around your spinal cord. The vertebrae are numbered 1-33 and divided into 4 sections: Cervical (7 vertebrae), Thoracic (12 vertebrae), Lumbar (5 vertebrae), and Coccygeal (4 vertebrae). Each of these sections provide stability and protection for your spinal cord; however, when one of them is injured, even just slightly, the results can be devastating.
Complete vs. Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries
The terms “complete” and “incomplete” refer in part to the severity of a spinal cord injury.
Incomplete injuries are injuries where the spinal cord is only partially severed. The patient might retain partial function in varying areas of their body. The degree of the remaining function depends on the severity of the injury. Incomplete injuries are the most common type of spinal cord injury, making up about 60% of all cases.
Complete spinal cord injuries involve a complete severing of the spinal cord. Function is entirely eliminated.
With both of these injuries, recovery is possible, though not guaranteed.
The most common spinal cord injuries can be caused by a whole spectrum of factors: birth injuries, falls, car accidents, sports injuries, violence, preexisting conditions, and so much more. Here are a few of the most common conditions patients experience.
Anterior Cord Syndrome
Anterior Cord Syndrome affects the front of the spinal cord. It is caused when the anterior spinal artery is compromised, causing restriction of blood, oxygen, glucose, etc. to the spinal cord. In severe cases, this type of injury can cause tissue death. Symptoms include loss of motor functions below the site of injury, loss of sensation (pain, temperature), and preservation of sensations (vibration, etc.).
The most common cause of Anterior Cord Syndrome is heart problems. A weak or defective aorta, or trauma to the aorta (possibly in the form of aneurysm or surgery). Trauma to the spine itself as well as preexisting medical conditions can restrict blood supply from the anterior spinal artery, as well. Conditions like herniated discs and sickle cell disease.
Central Cord Syndrome
Central Cord Syndrome involves an injury to the center of the spinal cord. These injuries damage nerves that carry signals from the brain to the spinal cord. Symptoms include loss of fine motor control, paralysis of the arms (this type of injury disproportionately affects the upper limbs), partial impairment in the legs, loss of bladder or bowel control, and decreased sexual performance.
Central Cord Syndrome is caused by spinal osteoarthritis in the elderly, but it can affect all age groups. In younger patients, it is typically caused by trauma to the neck.
Brown-Séquard Syndrome is caused by damage to one half of the spinal cord. These injuries can cause the loss of movement and feeling on one side, but not the other.
This injury can be caused by a spinal tumor, acute trauma, obstruction of a crucial blood source, or an infection that causes inflammation and puts pressure on the spinal cord. Most commonly, it is caused by gunshot and stab wounds.
Spinal Cord Injury Classifications
Doctors also classify spinal cord injuries by the effect they have on the patient’s motor skills.
Tetraplegia – Loss of sensation and movement in all four limbs. Movement is limited from the site of injury down. Degree of paralysis can vary in certain limbs.
Paraplegia – Loss of sensation and movement in the lower extremities. Generally caused by injuries to the thoracic spinal cord.
Triplegia – Loss of sensation and movement in three limbs, one arm and both legs. Usually caused by an incomplete spinal injury.
Common Symptoms and Effects
- Trouble breathing
- Poor bladder control and bowel function
- Frequent infections
- Chronic pain
- Mood or Personality Changes
- Decrease in sexual function or drive
- Loss of fertility
- Nerve pain
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle spasm
- Digestive problems
- Problems with heart rate and blood pressure
Contact an Atlanta Spinal Cord Injury Attorney Today
If you or a loved one has experienced a spinal cord injury, call the experienced attorneys at Ashenden & Associates, P.C. Our legal team can help provide you with the representation you deserve. Call us at (770) 394-8909, or fill out our online contact form to schedule your consultation.