Spinal Cord Injuries – What Causes Paralysis?

June 3, 2016 | 8:00 am | By Pants Up Easy

If you’ve seen a commercial for the new Captain America movie (and I don’t see how you could escape them), then you know it features some of our favorite heroes battling one another. I won’t spoil anything for you, but let’s just say one of our heroes suffers a serious spinal cord injury, a spinal cord injury that causes some moderate paralysis. (Go see the movie! It’s great!)

So while you wonder which Avenger needs an occupational therapist now, consider this for a second: not even superheroes can escape paralysis from spinal cord injuries. And most of us aren’t as strong as Asgardian demigods.

What causes paralysis? It depends on the part of the spinal cord that is injured.

Understanding how the spinal cord works

The spinal cord houses most of the central nervous system, which communicates directly with the brain. The brain sends messages to the rest of the body through the spinal cord, so think of it as wiring or an information highway. And when that wiring becomes damaged, it inhibits the brain’s ability to communicate with your limbs.

Since the brain is the source of information, the closer an injury is to the brain, the worse off you’ll be. So an injury to the higher portions of the spinal cord could result in complete paralysis, while injuring the bottom of the spinal cord might not even result in paralysis.

The spinal cord is a series of vertebrae

These vertebrae are divided into various sections, called (in order, from the top) the Cervical, Thoracic, Lumbar and Sacral. Lumbar and Sacral injuries are the least severe, and the ability to walk may remain (however, you could need help). Bowel and bladder function may also be relatively normal.

Once we get higher than that, though, the ramifications increase greatly. Injuries in the Thoracic region usually result in paraplegia, which is the loss of function in the legs and possibly your trunk. This region contains 12 different vertebrae, and it is the largest section of the spinal cord.

The highest portion is the Cervical, which encompasses eight total vertebrae. Problems in the lower cervical (the bottom four vertebrae) result in numbness and loss in function in the hands and arms; however, it will not be complete paralysis. Once we get to the highest region of their spinal cord (the top four Cervical vertebrae), that’s the worst of all. This person will suffer from quadriplegia and likely require around-the-clock care.

What to do if you have recently suffered a spinal cord injury

We realize this will be an adjustment period for you, but don’t fret; it will get better. Especially if you take a moment to look around our blog and check out some of the articles. We try to provide plenty of helpful information for wheelchair users, both new and experienced, to make your life a little easier. And if you want to make it much easier, I advise you to take a look at our products. We think they’ll save you a lot of time and money in the long run.

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