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The spinal cord is the largest nerve in the body. It is approximately 18 inches long and runs from the base of the brain, down the middle of the back, to the waist. The spinal cord is made up of nerve fibers. These nerve fibers are responsible for the body's communication systems, which include sensory, motor, and autonomic functions. Sensory function means the ability to feel sensations, like pain. Motor function is the ability to voluntarily move your body. Autonomic functions are involuntary body functions, like the ability to sweat and breath. Around the nerve fibers are protective bone segments called the vertebral column or the spinal column.
A spinal cord injury is any injury of the nerve elements within the spinal cord. Most spinal cord injuries result from trauma to the vertebral column. This can affect the spinal cord's ability to send and receive messages from the brain to the parts of the body that control sensory, motor, and autonomic functions. The effect on the body depends on the location and severity of the spinal cord injury.
Usually, the nerves above the injury site continue to function normally, but the nerves below do not. A spinal cord injury can be "complete" or "incomplete." A "complete" spinal cord injury is where the nerve damage obstructs all signals coming from the brain to the body parts below the injury site. An "incomplete" spinal cord injury is where the nerve damage only effects some of those signals. The closer the injury is to the brain, the greater the loss of feeling and function.
A person with paraplegia has lost feeling and is unable to move the lower parts of the body. A person with tetraplegia (formerly known as quadriplegia) has lost feeling and is unable to move both the upper and lower parts of the body. In some cases, the spinal cord is only bruised or swollen and the nerves may begin to work again.
Like traumatic brain injury, the leading causes of spinal cord injuries are motor vehicle crashes, falls, and sport-related accidents, especially diving. The key to reducing these horrific injuries is through prevention.
If you, or someone you care about, have been the unfortunate victim of a head or spinal injury, you can contact our law firm for a free consultation.
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