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About Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)

Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) is damage to the spinal cord that results in a loss of function such as mobility or feeling. Frequent causes of damage are trauma (car accident, gunshot, falls, etc.) or disease (polio, spina bifida, Friedreich’s Ataxia, etc.). The spinal cord does not have to be severed in order for a loss of functioning to occur. In fact, in most people with SCI, the spinal cord is intact, but the damage to it results in loss of functioning. SCI is very different from back injuries such as ruptured disks, spinal stenosis or pinched nerves.

A person can “break their back or neck” yet not sustain a spinal cord injury if only the bones around the spinal cord (the vertebrae) are damaged, but the spinal cord is not affected. In these situations, the individual may not experience paralysis after the bones are stabilized.

Difference between a paraplegic and a quadriplegic

Spinal cord injuries occur when there’s damage to the spinal cord. The result is loss of function, usually in mobility or feeling. Severe injuries that occur in the neck usually result in Quadriplegia, which is paralysis from about the shoulders down. Typically, the higher the neck injury, the more Disability there is.

Quadriplegics lack the ability to move their arms and legs, and some may require a Ventilator to breathe. Paraplegics have an injury further down the spinal cord and experience a loss of sensation and movement in their legs and in part or all of their trunk. In many cases, there is some use of their hands or arms. Depending on the extent of the injury and whether the damage is permanent, there may be a loss of bladder and bowel control.

More than 54 percent of spinal cord injuries are the result of vehicular collisions. More than a quarter result from other medical conditions and sports injuries. Falls make up about 18 percent.

In addition to quadriplegic and paraplegic, the terms “complete” and “incomplete” are used to describe the type of spinal cord injury. Complete injuries result in total loss of sensation and movement below the injury. Both sides of the body are affected equally.

Incomplete injuries result in partial loss of feeling and function below the injury. For example, someone with an Incomplete Injury may be able to move one limb more than another or feel a part of the body that can’t be moved. Complete and incomplete injuries can occur in Paraplegia and quadriplegia.

Other effects may include low blood pressure, inability to regulate blood pressure, reduced control of body temperature and inability to sweat below the injury.


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