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What is a spinal cord injury?

A spinal cord injury or SCI is a complete or partial damage to the spinal cord that

causes permanent changes in sensation and loss of voluntary control below the site of

injury.

What makes an SCI so traumatic is the fact that it can happen to anyone at any time,

and will severely impact the person’s lifestyle.

It has been estimated that there are approximately 282,000 people living with SCI’s in the

US, with close to 17,000 new cases of SCIs each year.

The current average age of injury is 42 years and males account for 80% of new SCI cases.

The most common form of SCI with 45% of cases is an incomplete tetraplegia, while the least

common is a complete tetraplegia.

A complete SCI means that there is no sensation below the site of injury.

On the other hand, an incomplete SCI refers to some retention in sensation in the affected

areas of the body.

According to a 2013 analysis of the National SCI Database, the leading causes of SCIs were

automobile crashes and falls.

Following these were gunshot wounds, motorcycle crashes, driving incidents, and medical/surgical

complications.

Altogether, this constitutes 83.1% of SCIs since 2005.

Depending on the location and severity of the injury, the symptoms of SCIs can vary

widely.

Standard symptoms include pain and numbness, inability to move extremities or walk, inability

to feel pressure, heat or cold, muscle spasms, loss of bladder or bowel control, and difficulty

breathing.

There are three regions to the spine: cervical, thoracic and lumbar.

Injuries to each of these areas has different effects.

If the cervical area is damaged, it can be life threatening.

Damage to the cervical area can affect the arms, legs, mod-body, and the ability to breathe.

The higher up the injury occurs, the worse the symptoms.

Damage to the thoracic spine typically affects the legs, pelvic organs and can impact blood

pressure.

Damage to the lumbar spine can affect one or both legs, and may also cause incontinence.

Paralysis of both the arms and legs is referred to as tetraplegia, while paralysis of just

the legs is referred to as paraplegia.

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for a spinal cord injury.

Instead, medical professionals work at restoring what function they can and helping the individual

adapt to their new way of life.

On the site where a spinal cord injury is incurred, emergency personnel will immobilize

the spine using a rigid neck collar and a rigid carrying board.After leaving the hospital,

a patient must adapt to their new way of life, with potential limitations in motor and sensory

control.

For this, they may seek rehabilitation.

This may include physical therapy to help strengthen muscles, assistive devices to aid

with mobility and communication, occupational therapy, vocational therapy, or recreational

therapy.Although there is no cure for spinal cord injuries, there are a number of technologies

being developed which show promise for SCI victims.