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Spinal Cord Injuries: Complete and Incomplete
June 13, 2019
What is Spinal Cord?
The spinal cord is a long, fragile tubelike structure that begins at the end of the brain stem and continues down almost to the bottom of the spine. The spinal cord consists of nerves that carry incoming and outgoing messages between the brain and the rest of the body. It is also the center for reflexes, such as the knee jerk reflex.
A spinal cord injury is a damage to any part of the spinal cord or nerves at the end of the spinal canal, is often causes permanent changes in strength, sensation and other body functions below the site of the injury.
If you’ve recently experienced a spinal cord injury, it might seem like every aspect of your life has been affected. You might feel the effects of your injury mentally, emotionally and socially.
Types of Spinal Cord Injuries
Your ability to control your limbs after a spinal cord injury depends on two factors: the place of the injury along your spinal cord and the severity of injury to the spinal cord.
The lowest normal part of your spinal cord is referred to as the neurological level of your injury. The severity of the injury is often called “the completeness” and is classified as either of the following:
– Complete. If all feeling (sensory) and all ability to control movement (motor function) are lost below the spinal cord injury, your injury is called complete.
– Incomplete. If you have some motor or sensory function below the affected area, your injury is called incomplete. There are varying degrees of incomplete injury.
The most common type of Spinal Cord injuries includes:
– Tetraplegia: These injuries, which are the result of damage to the cervical spinal cord, are typically the most severe, producing varying degrees of paralysis of all limbs. Sometimes known as quadriplegia, tetraplegia eliminates your ability to move below the site of the injury, and may produce difficulties with bladder and bowel control, respiration, and other routine functions. The higher up on the cervical spinal cord the injury is, the more severe symptoms will likely be.
– Paraplegia: This occurs when sensation and movement are removed from the lower half of the body, including the legs. These injuries are the product of damage to the thoracic spinal cord. As with cervical spinal cord injuries, injuries are typically more severe when they are closer to the top vertebra.
– Triplegia: Triplegia causes loss of sensation and movement in one arm and both legs, and is typically the product of an incomplete spinal cord injury.
Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries
Spinal cord injuries may result from damage to the vertebrae, ligaments or disks of the spinal column or to the spinal cord itself.
A traumatic spinal cord injury may stem from a sudden, traumatic blow to your spine that fractures, dislocates, crushes or compresses one or more of your vertebrae. It also may result from a gunshot or knife wound that penetrates and cuts your spinal cord.
Prevention is always the cure to any diseases, so do not hesitate to be a little more careful on what you do.
Drive safely. Car crashes are one of the most common causes of spinal cord injuries. Wear a seat belt every time you drive or ride in a car. Make sure that your children wear a seat belt or use an age- and weight-appropriate child safety seat. To protect them from air bag injuries, children under age 12 should always ride in the back seat.
Check water depth before diving. To make sure you don’t dive into shallow water, don’t dive into a pool unless it’s 12 feet (about 3.7 meters) or deeper, don’t dive into an aboveground pool, and don’t dive into any water of which you don’t know the depth.
Prevent falls. Use a step stool with a grab bar to reach objects in high places. Add handrails along stairways. Put nonslip mats on tile floors and in the tub or shower. For young children, use safety gates to block stairs and consider installing window guards.
Take precautions when playing sports. Always wear recommended safety gear. Avoid leading with your head in sports. For example, don’t slide headfirst in baseball, and don’t tackle using the top of your helmet in football. Use a spotter for new moves in gymnastics.
Don’t drink and drive. Don’t drive while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs. Don’t ride with a driver who’s been drinking.
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