The spinal cord consists of a column of nerves that is protected by an insulating layer/sheath known as myelin, made up of protein and fatty-like substances. There are 4 different regions of the spinal cord, and they are as follows: The cervical spinal cord, the thoracic spinal cord, the lumbar spinal cord, the sacral spinal cord. There is also a 5th and final region of the spinal cord known as the coccygeal region, also commonly referred to as the tailbone.
The top portion that connects the brain to the spinal cord and the neck to the back is known as the cervical spinal cord, and consists of 8 vertebrea; C1 to C8. The thoracic spinal cord forms the middle region of the spinal cord and consists of 12 vertebtrae; T1 to T12. The lower region of the spinal cord is known as the lumbar spinal cord, which is where your spinal cord starts to bend. There are 5 vertebrae in this region; L1 to L5. Finally, the lower, triangular-shaped region of the spinal cord, which is the sacral spine, doesn’t consist of the spinal cord. It is instead made up of nerve roots.
Spinal cord injuries are made up of two types: Incomplete spinal cord injuries and complete spinal cord injuries. Incomplete spinal cord injuries are considered the less severe of spinal cord injuries, as you can generally regain some function due to the fact that the spinal cord is only partially severed. Though the degree of function in which you will retain depends on the severity of the injury or injuries suffered – however, with increased knowledge on these types of injuries over the years, healthcare professionals have a much better understanding of how these injuries occur and how they should be responded to. A complete spinal cord injury, however, occurs when the spinal cord is fully severed and completely eliminates the ability to function. These types of injuries are much more difficult to recover from, though with regular (and oftentimes vigorous) physical therapy treatment, patients may be able to regain a certain degree of function.
How a spinal cord injury affects an individual depends on the way in which the spinal cord was injured. For example, an injury to the front of the spinal cord, known as anterior cord syndrome, can cause damage to the sensory and motor pathways of the spinal cord, which may cause loss of sensation and trouble with movement. In cases where the centre of the cord is injured, nerves that carry signals from the brain to the spinal cord can become damaged and result in paralysis; this is known as central cord syndrome. Lastly, brown-sequard syndrome, a type of injury that generally only affects one side of the spinal cord. For example, you may be able to move the right side of your body but have no movement on the left side of your body.
Along with lack of movement, other symptoms of a spinal cord injury can include urinary incontinence or problems with bowel function, increased infections, bedsores, headaches and migraines, loss of libido/sexual function, loss of fertility, nerve pain, muscle pain, breathing difficulty, and changes in mood.
To determine if a spinal cord injury has occurred, Dr. Ali Ghahary may conduct a physical examination by asking the patient to move their limbs to check for mobility or lack of mobility, as well as perform other tests to rule out any other causes. Imaging tests, such as CT scans, MRI and X-rays, can also be helpful in determining a spinal cord injury.