Cervical Spinal Cord Injuries
A spinal cord injury could occur in many types of accidents. The most common are car accidents, falls, sports incidents and acts of violence. The effects a spinal cord injury will have on the victim depends on the severity of the injury, as well as where it occurred along the spinal cord. Different parts of the spine are responsible for sending messages to different parts of the body. The cervical spine is the uppermost portion of the spinal cord. Sustaining an injury to the cervical spine can limit movement and sensation throughout the body.
Where Is the Cervical Spinal Cord?
The cervical spine is the portion of the spinal cord in the neck: the seven vertebrae from C1 to C8. It connects the skull to the body. The cervical spine is the most delicate region of the spinal cord because it houses critical nerves. It is also one of the most complicated areas of the body, with a lot that can go wrong in a major accident. Damage to vertebrae, discs, nerves or muscles along the cervical spine could cause serious disability.
The cervical spinal cord plays an important role within the body. It is responsible for supporting the head and allowing its movement and flexibility. It has small holes that allow arteries in the spinal cord to sufficiently carry blood to the brain. It also shields the section of the spinal cord that transmits signals from the brain to the body. An injury that damages any part of the cervical spine could be fatal. If the victim survives, he or she may suffer permanent loss of sensation and mobility.
Tetraplegia and Cervical Spinal Cord Injuries
When a spinal cord injury results in paralysis, or the permanent loss of function and feeling, the affected region is typically everything below the injured area of the spine. An injury to the lower spine (lumbar spine), for example, could result in paraplegia, or paralysis of the legs and lower body. This is why cervical spinal cord injuries can be severely debilitating.
Injuries to the uppermost part of the spine can cause paralysis of the full body – from where the head meets the spine down to the toes. Physicians classify this type of injury as tetraplegia. Tetraplegia was the diagnosis for one of the most famous spinal cord injury patients in history, Christopher Reeves.
Tetraplegia, also known as quadriplegia, refers to any injury that affects the vertebrae above the thoracic spine: cervical sections C1 to C8. People with tetraplegia can experience varying degrees of paralysis in all four limbs. They may also suffer paralysis of the trunk and neck depending on the injury. The higher up the injury is on the cervical spine, the worse its effects may be.
Cervical Spine Injury Disability
Damage to the uppermost spine, the C1 to C3 vertebrae, can cause total disability. The patient will have limited neck movement and require complete care. A C4 injury may allow the patient to retain some head, neck and shoulder movement, but the patient will still require care. Patients with C5 and lower injuries may retain some independence in terms of self-care and may have mobility in the arms and legs. C6 through C8 injury patients may retain significant movement and be able to operate manual wheelchairs.
Each patient is unique. No two spinal cord injuries are exactly alike. The individual’s mobility and independence will depend on his or her personal strength, the nature of the injury and how well the patient takes to rehabilitation. Living with tetraplegia can present many ongoing challenges. A patient with tetraplegia will likely need around-the-clock care. The patient may not be able to breathe on his or her own and may depend on a ventilator. Many require assistance with everyday tasks such as eating and personal hygiene. Fighting for compensation for a cervical spine injury could provide financial relief for the lifelong costs of tetraplegia.
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