Spinal Cord Injury

A spinal cord injury can irrevocably change your life. The spinal cord is a major part of the central nervous system, sending nerve impulses, sensations and motor impulses to the rest of the body. An injury to the spinal cord can cut off communication between the brain and other parts of the body, causing paralysis, loss of sensation and weakness. Nerve cells and spinal cord tissue cannot regenerate itself, thus the effects of a spinal cord injury are usually permanent.

Symptoms and Complications

The symptoms and complications of a spinal cord injury depend upon the location and severity of the injury. The effects include loss of movement, loss of muscle and motor control, loss of sensation, loss of bowel or bladder control, spasms and exaggerated reflexes, pain caused by damage to the nerve fibers in the spinal cord, changes in sexual function, including changes to sexual sensitivity and fertility and difficulty breathing, coughing or clearing secretions from the lungs.

Complications to spinal cord injury can affect every area of the injured person’s life. The spinal cord is the main conduit delivering impulses between the brain and the rest of the body for all functions, voluntary and involuntary. The effects of a spinal cord injury can cause other problems that include:

* Skin injuries, including pressure sores and burns from heat or cold because of the lack of sensation

* Urinary and bowel incontinence

* Pneumonia and other respiratory problems if your abdominal and chest muscles are affected

* Loss of muscle tone or increased muscle tone

* Obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes resulting from limited mobility and sedentary lifestyle

* Depression

Risk Factors and Causes

A spinal cord injury can result from a traumatic injury or from non-traumatic causes. A traumatic spinal cord injury is generally caused by a sudden traumatic blow to the spine that damages one or more vertebrae, or from a gunshot or knife wound. Non-traumatic causes for a spinal cord injury include disk degeneration, infections, cancer, inflammation or arthritis. Common causes of spinal cord injury include automobile and motorcycle accidents, falls, sports and recreation injuries and acts of violence. Alcohol is a factor in about 25 percent of all spinal cord injuries. Diseases that can cause spinal cord injury include cancer, osteoporosis, inflammation of the spinal cord, arthritis and conditions that cause spinal cord compression.


While there is currently no way to reverse the damage caused by a spinal cord injury, researchers are constantly working on new treatments, including medications that may help nerve cells regenerate or function better after a spinal cord injury. Most treatment for spinal cord injury focuses on preventing further damage or injury and on helping the injured person maintain or return to an active and productive life.

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