Do All Spinal Cord Injuries Result in Paralysis?

May 4, 2016 | 8:00 am | By Pants Up Easy

If you’re here, you probably know a little bit about spinal cord injuries – how dangerous they are, and what the implications of them can be. And today we’re here to talk about a very specific implication: paralysis.

So do all spinal cord injuries result in paralysis? No, not every one of them. It’s possible to suffer a spinal cord problem without being paralyzed. But in order to fully understand how this works, you need to fully understand the spinal cord.

The problem is not the cord itself; it’s the connections

The spinal cord is nothing more than series of vertebrae, which aren’t inherently problematic. People get slipped back disks on a regular basis, right? The real concern is with the connections that line the spinal cord – namely, all of the nerves that are connected together and communicate with the brain.

The spinal cord carries and shields much of your central nervous system, which is how your brain controls the body. You brain sends messages through the nervous system; therefore, if the nervous system becomes disrupted in some way (for instance, because of a spinal cord injury), then the messages become disrupted. And if the messages aren’t getting through, then you won’t be able to exhibit control over your limbs. That’s spinal cord paralysis, in a nutshell.

The area of the spinal cord matters

In general, the lower you go on the spinal cord, the better off you’ll be. The highest areas of the spinal cord (known as the high-cervical nerves) are considered the most dangerous, as injuries here can result in nearly full body paralysis. Once you go lower than the top four vertebrae, the chances of arm function rise dramatically.

After the top section of the spinal cord (the cervical nerves) comes the middle section, or the thoracic nerves. Injuries here usually mean paralysis below the waist, but you can have a lot of upper body functionality. And if you’re injured in the last part of the spinal cord (the lumbar or sacral nerves), you can still walk in many cases.

One final note: virtually all spinal cord injuries result in some bladder and/or bowel control problems. Even if the very last vertebrae is the one injured.

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