Spinal Cord Injuries

What are Spinal Cord Injuries?

Damage to the tight bundle of cells and nerves that sends and receives information from the brain to and from the rest of the body is known as a spinal cord injury (SCI). SCI can be caused by damage to the tissue and bones (vertebrae) that surround the spinal cord or by direct injury to the spinal cord itself. Below the site of injury, this damage can cause temporary or permanent alterations in sensation, movement, strength, and physiological functions. Some injuries that induce little or no cell death may allow for a near-complete recovery, but more catastrophic injuries that occur higher on the spinal cord can result in paralysis throughout the body. In the United States, the most common causes of SCI are motor vehicle accidents and traumatic falls.

The spinal cord can still transmit certain messages to and from the brain to the rest of the body if the injury is incomplete. A complete injury occurs when there is no nerve transmission or motor function (voluntary movement) below the trauma site.

Signs & Symptoms

A spinal cord injury can cause one or more symptoms including:

  • Numbness, tingling, or a loss of or changes in sensation in the hands and feet.
  • Paralysis that may happen immediately or develop over time as swelling and bleeding affects the spinal cord.
  • Pain or pressure in head, neck, or back.
  • Loss of movement.
  • Weakness or inability to move any part of the body.
  • Unnatural positions of the spine or head.
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control.
  • Problems walking.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Changes in sexual function.