SCI Info

Spinal Cord Injury Information

Over recent years, understanding spinal cord injuries and the possibility of a cure has drastically changed.  Where there was once no hope, scientists now believe thata cure is possible.  BRPF supported scientists are on the cutting edge of spinal cord injury research and are continuing to make progress.  There are new advances being made every day.  It is truly an exciting time for spinal cord injured victims and spinal cord injury research. The following information is just a brief overview of the spinal cord and spinal cord injury.

The spinal cord is the major bundle of nerves that carries nerve impulses to and from the brain to the rest of the body. The brain and the spinal cord constitute the Central Nervous System. Motor and sensory nerves outside the central nervous system constitute the Peripheral Nervous System, and another diffuse system of nerves that control involuntary functions such as blood pressure and temperature regulation are the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems.

spinal_cordSpinal cord injuries usually begin with a blow that fractures or dislocates a vertebra, the bone disks that make up your spine. These bones constitute the spinal column (back bones). In general, the higher in the spinal column the injury occurs, the more dysfunction a person will experience. The vertebrae are named according to their location. The eight vertebrae in the neck are called the Cervical Vertebrae. The top vertebra is called C-1, the next is C-2, etc. Cervical SCI’s usually cause loss of function in the arms and legs, resulting in quadriplegia. The twelve vertebrae in the chest are called the Thoracic Vertebrae. The first thoracic vertebra, T-1, is the vertebra where the top rib attaches.

Injuries in the thoracic region usually affect the chest and the legs and result in paraplegia. The vertebrae in the lower back between the thoracic vertebrae, where the ribs attach, and the pelvis (hip bone), are the Lumbar Vertebrae. The sacral vertebrae run from the pelvis to the end of the spinal column. Injuries to the five Lumbar vertebra (L-1 thru L-5) and similarly to the five Sacral Vertebrae (S-1 thru S-5) generally result in some loss of functioning in the hips and legs.

Cells called neurons connect with one another to send and receive messages into the brain and spinal cord.  These neurons work together and are responsible for every decision made, every emotion or sensation felt, and every action taken. As many as 10,000 different subtypes of neurons have been identified, each specialized to send and receive certain types of information. Most injuries don’t sever the spinal cord. Instead, they cause damage when pieces of vertebrae tear into cord tissue or press down on the nerve parts that carry signals. In a complete spinal cord injury, the cord can’t relay messages below the level of the injury. As a result, you are paralyzed below the level of injury.  In an incomplete injury, you have some movement and sensation below the injury.

Unlike almost every other part of the body, the spinal cord does not heal itself.  Furthermore, the complexity of the central nervous system makes the formation of the right connections between the brain and spinal cord cells very difficult for scientists to recreate. Research has progressed significantly over recent years and gives us a reason to hope for a cure in the near future.

*Some of this information was provided from the National Institute Of Neurological Disorders and Strokes, Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation and Spinal Cord Injury Information Pages.