A spinal cord injury happens when the nerves of your spinal cord get damaged, depriving you of sensation and movement below the level of the injury. Quadriplegia and paraplegia are forms of spinal cord injuries.
When you suffer a spinal cord injury, you will have extensive needs. You will require medical treatment and physical therapy. You will probably need help getting around, often by using a mobility device. You may even require a caretaker to assist you with your daily needs.
Below, you can learn more about spinal cord injuries and the compensation you can seek for one.
What Is the Structure and Function of Your Nervous System?
Your central nervous system includes your brain and your spinal cord. The brain controls the voluntary and involuntary systems in your body. Without your brain, nothing would function in your body, from your muscles to your sweat glands.
Your brain connects to two sets of nerves. The cranial nerves carry signals between your head and your brain, controlling your facial muscles and the muscles that control your eyes and jaw. These nerves also carry sensory signals to your brain from your eyes, ears, nose, and tongue.
The spinal cord also connects to your brain and carries signals between your brain and your body below your neck. The signals that run along the spinal cord control your body’s muscles and organs and carry sensory signals from your body’s skin to your brain. These signals communicate temperature, pressure, and texture information.
The spinal cord runs through the spinal canal, a passage through your spine that protects the nerves in your spinal cord. These nerves are formed from neurons that carry a combination of electrical and chemical signals. When a neuron picks up a signal from an adjacent neuron, it moves charged particles to its surface and releases neurotransmitter chemicals. These changes pass the signal to the next neuron in line.
How Does a Spinal Cord Injury Happen?
When nerves get damaged, they cannot carry signals. A nerve can get damaged in many ways, including diseases and trauma.
An accident can cause a spinal cord injury in a few ways, including:
If an object penetrates the spinal canal, it can sever the spinal cord’s nerves. For example, suppose that you fall onto a piece of rebar in a construction accident. The rebar could penetrate your spine and sever nerves in your spinal cord.
Dislocated or Fractured Vertebra
Each vertebra has two parts. The cylindrical body supports your weight, and the wing-shaped processes provide anchor points for ligaments and tendons.
If your accident fractures the body of a vertebra, bone fragments can float into the spinal canal and compress or sever nerves in the spinal cord. If a spinal process fractures, the ligaments cannot hold the vertebra in place, allowing it to dislocate into the spinal canal. In either case, a broken back can result in a spinal cord injury.
Slip and fall accidents and other falls are common causes of a fractured vertebra.
If you damage a disc, it can deform. A bulging disc happens when the disc weakens and the outer shell sags. A herniated disc occurs when the outer shell separates and allows the interior to protrude. These deformities can compress nearby nerves, including the spinal cord.
Disc damage can result from almost any accident, but the forces involved in car accidents often cause disc damage. As you whip back and forth in a car crash, the spine hyperextends, then compresses. This stretching and crushing can weaken your discs.
What Types of Spinal Cord Injuries Can Occur?
Spinal cord injuries can take two forms:
In a complete injury, all the nerves of the spinal cord get severed. Complete injuries cause paralysis and total loss of sensation below the injury.
When you suffer an incomplete spinal cord injury, some but not all of the nerves get severed. As a result, you retain some function below the injury.
The function you retain will vary depending on the nerves that get severed. Sometimes, patients lose motor function but retain sensory function. In other cases, patients can still move but do not have control over enough muscles to have any strength in the affected body parts.
What Are the Symptoms of a Spinal Cord Injury?
The symptoms of a spinal cord injury depend on many factors. But the two main factors include:
Type of Nerves Disrupted
Nerves carry three types of signals. The signals that get disrupted will determine the symptoms you experience.
Autonomic signals control your involuntary systems, like digestion and temperature regulations.
If you damage the nerves carrying autonomic signals, you might experience:
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- High or low blood pressure
- Inability to sweat
- Sexual dysfunction
Depending on the symptoms you experience, you might not even connect your condition to your spinal cord injury.
Motor signals tell your muscles to move.
If you damage motor nerves, you could have symptoms such as:
- Muscle spasms
- Loss of dexterity and fine motor control
- Loss of coordination and balance
If you have an incomplete injury, physical therapy might help you regain some motor function by building up nearby muscles to control the affected area. The brain can also remap intact nerves to control some paralyzed regions.
Sensory signals collect information and provide it to the brain.
If you have sensory nerve damage, you might experience:
- Loss of sensitivity to temperature or pressure
You can lose motor control while still retaining sensations.
Location of Injury
The location of the injury determines which body parts are affected. A neck injury, for example, can cause paralysis from the neck down. A back injury, on the other hand, can cause paralysis from the waist down.
What Compensation Can You Seek for a Spinal Cord Injury?
If your spinal cord injury resulted from a preventable accident, you can seek compensation from the person or business that caused it. Your compensation can include economic damages meant to cover your medical costs, lost wages, and diminished earning capacity. It can also include non-economic damages to compensate for your decreased quality of life.
A spinal cord injury can leave you permanently disabled with no way to work or even care for yourself. Contact our Bradley Law Personal Injury Lawyers to discuss the compensation you can seek for these and other effects of a spinal cord injury, give us a call at (314) 400-0000.