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The Tragic Consequences Of A Spinal Cord Injury

Each year in the United States, over 10,000 people suffer spinal cord injuries. Such injuries can be caused by trauma or disease and can result in temporary or permanent loss of sensation, loss of movement (paralysis) and loss of bowel or bladder control.

Pathways For The Central Nervous System

The spinal cord is one of the body's most important systems, vital to the transfer of neural signals between the brain and the rest of the body. The spinal system consists not just of lumbar vertebrae, but also major components of the central nervous system. It is divided into 31 parts, segmented into three main sections — upper back, midback and lower back. This is important to note because each of these 31 parts controls various sensations in the body through spinal nerves. In addition to the nerves, major arteries run through the back as well, including the left and right posterior arteries.

But let's focus on the nerves that run through the spine, because that is where most injuries to the spine occur. The upper section of nerves in the spine, called cervical spinal nerves, exit through the various openings in the bones or vertebrae. Each vertebra has a numbered location, with those in the cervical area labeled C-1 through C-7. The middle section, or thoracic spine, is labeled T-1 through T-12. In the lower back, the lumbar vertebrae are represented by L-1 through L-5. Each nerve exiting these areas controls different pathways in the body, and in turn, injuring any one of them could cause sensations to occur in different areas.

Long-Term Effects Of Trauma

For example, the L-4 and L-5 lumbar spinal nerves control the pathways that reach the toes and the feet. If this part of your back is injured in a car accident, that could lead to further pain running down into your feet and toes. Even though the toes themselves were not subject to trauma, the damaged nerves leading from the spine will cause them to feel this way. The nature of the injury depends entirely on whether the spinal cord and nerve root itself were damaged and the subsequent inflammation that occurs.

Motor vehicle accidents, sports accidents and slip-and-falls are the most common causes of spinal cord injuries. Damaged nerves can lead to a loss of sensation, weakened muscles, a buzzing electrified feeling in affected areas and even paralysis.

Injuries are either complete or incomplete. A complete injury is one in which the victim has no sensation or voluntary motor movement on either side of the body below the level of the injury. If the victim has some feeling or partial movement, it is called an incomplete injury.

Afferent And Efferent Nerves

The nerves that branch out from the spine form a closed loop from the spinal column to the muscles and skin with the following steps: sensation, in which the body feels a feeling and the message is relayed to the spinal cord; decision, in which the message is sent from the spinal cord to the brain; and reaction, where the brain relays the message back through the spinal column to the nerve. Damage caused to either end of these loops can lead to entirely different issues and losses of sensation.

When a sensation is felt in the body, that feeling is picked up by a nerve located near the skin. For this feeling to be felt, it must first travel to the spinal column via what is called an afferent nerve. The spinal column then transmits any messages that the nerve may have been sending back up to the brain — such as "ouch, that hurts." Any messages sent back to the nerve by the muscles near the skin are then sent through what are called efferent nerves, which allow the person to then respond to the sensation. All of this happens nearly instantly and seamlessly as the feelings are felt and then acted upon. But when messages the brain is sending and receiving from other parts of the body are relayed through damaged neurons, the messages themselves can become muddled or diluted. This is what leads to the differing sensations resulting to injuries to these nerves, whether it is from a car accident or any other type of trauma.

How Insurance Companies Deal With Spinal Injuries

Frequently, insurance companies will delay spinal cord treatment to seek a cheaper option. Time is of the essence, however, especially when a nerve itself has been damaged, and the quicker it is acted upon, the higher the chances for a successful recovery. That's why it's important to contact a qualified personal injury attorney who can make sure you are getting the proper treatment.

A spinal cord injury usually involves swelling of the spinal cord, which affects the whole body. When the swelling goes down, the patient may regain function months or years after the injury, but it is rare for all function to return. Treatment consists of stabilizing any broken vertebrae, maintaining the patient, preventing movement to the injured area and reducing swelling.

Talk To An Attorney Today

If you or a loved one suffering from a spinal cord injury needs legal assistance, contact the Law Offices of John Morelli in Cherry Hill by calling 856-528-3205 to speak with an experienced New Jersey lawyer. You can also contact us by sending an email.

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