How a Spinal Cord Injury Affects the Rest of the Body

Health 15 July, 2019

If there’s one part of the body that doesn’t get enough credit, it’s the spinal cord. In fact, most of us forget we even have one until something goes wrong. But when something goes wrong with the spinal cord, it’s almost always devastating.

This is because the spinal cord is involved in so many bodily functions, from walking to swallowing.

What the spinal cord does in the body

Along with the brain, the spinal cord is part of your central nervous system. The brain is the body’s command center, and the spinal cord is the pathway for messages. You may have heard of the mind-body connection. Well, the mind-body connection is largely carried out by the brain (mind) and the spinal cord.

Let’s look at movement, for example. If you want to move your finger, the idea starts in the mind. But the impulses must travel through the spinal cord and through the nerves in order to connect to your finger. The same is true for involuntary movements and virtually anything the body does. This is it’s common for people with spinal cord injuries to become paralyzed. The injury blocks the messages that are being sent from the brain. And the type of injury you may get depends on the location of the damage.

Types of spinal cord injuries

Depending on the accident, you can become injured in various parts of your spine. And the part of the body that’s impacted depends on the location of the injury within the spine. We’re going to cover the three parts of the spinal cord, but you should also know that an injury can impact multiple areas.

Cervical spinal cord

The cervical spinal cord is the upper spine that starts at your neck and connects to the rest of your back. There are eight vertebrae in the spine that are referred to as C1 through C8. The C1 vertebrae is at the highest location (neck), and C8 is in the lowest region.

Thoracic spinal cord

The thoracic spinal cord is located below the cervical spine and spans your mid-back region.

Lumbar spinal cord

In the lumbar region, your back begins to bend inward. Where you can feel this on your own back is the lumbar region.

If you get injured in any part of your spinal cord, the injury will be labeled as complete or incomplete. When an injury is incomplete, only part of the spinal cord is severed. With a complete spinal cord injury, the entire cord is severed.

Most spinal cord injuries are incomplete, thankfully.  If you suspect your spinal cord has been injured, do not move or allow anyone to move you until help arrives. This will help keep an incomplete spinal cord injury from becoming complete.

Understanding incomplete spinal cord injuries

There are many types of incomplete or partial spinal cord injuries, but the most common are:

  • Anterior cord syndrome – This is when the front of the spinal cord is injured and damage extends to the motor and sensory pathways. With this injury, you may struggle to move parts of your body, but you’ll likely retain some sensation.
  • Central cord syndrome – When the center of the cord is injured and damages nerves, you’ll likely experience loss of fine motor skills, arm paralysis, and partial impairment. This type of injury could also cause bladder issues and sexual dysfunction.
  • Brown-Sequard syndrome – This injury describes damage to one part of the spinal cord. If you have this injury, you may lose function or experience impaired function on one side of your body.

If you or someone you love has suffered a spinal cord injury, the first step is education. Understanding your injury will help you live a more fulfilled life.