A spinal cord injury is an injury or insult to the spinal cord that results in temporary or permanent change in feeling and/or mobility. The spinal cord doe not have to be severed for loss of function to occur. Common causes of spinal cord injuries are trauma or disease. Traumatic spinal cord injuries often result from auto accidents, falls, violence, and sports injuries. At 50%, auto accidents are, by far, the leading cause of spinal cord injuries.
Paraplegia v. Quadriplegia / Tetraplegia
Spinal cord injuries may result in Paraplegia or Tetraplegia (which has replaced the term Quadriplegia):
Paraplegia is an injury or impairment to the spinal cord affecting motor and/or sensory function of the lower limbs. The area of the spinal canal which is affected in paraplegia is either the thoracic, lumbar, or sacral regions.
Tetraplegia is an injury to the brain or spinal cord in the cervical region which affects all four extremities. Patients with tertraplegia experience paralysis in both the upper and lower limbs.
Effects of Spinal Cord Injuries
The precise effects of a spinal cord injury vary depending upon the type and level injury, and can be organized into two types:
Complete Injury: In a complete injury, there is no function below the "neurological" level; that is, the lowest level that has intact neurological function. If a person has some level below which there is no motor and sensory function, the injury is said to be "complete". Recent evidence suggests less than 5% of people with "complete" spinal cord injury recover locomotion.
Incomplete Injury: A person with an incomplete injury retains some sensation or movement below the level of the injury. The lowest spinal cord level is S4-5, representing the anal sphincter and peri-anal sensation. Thus, if a person is able to contract the anal sphincter voluntarily or feel peri-anal pinprick or touch, the injury is said to be "incomplete". Recent evidence suggests over 95% of people with "incomplete" spinal cord injury recover some locomotion.
Five Types of Traumatic Spinal Cord Injuries
Based on the American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) and the International Spinal Cord Injury Classification System, a traumatic spinal cord injury is classified into one of five types:
A - Indicates a "complete" spinal cord injury where no motor or sensory function is preserved in the sacral segments S4-S5. A complete injury is one in which there is some neurological below which there is no motor or sensory function. Since the S4-S5 segment is the lower segmental, absence of motor and sensory function indicates "complete" spinal cord injury.
B - Indicates an "incomplete" spinal cord injury where sensory but not motor function is preserved below the neurological level and includes the sacral segments S4-S5. This is typically a transient phase and if the person recovers any motor function below the neurological level, that person essentially becomes a motor incomplete, i.e. ASIA C or D.
C - Indicates an "incomplete" spinal cord injury where motor function is preserved below the neurological level and more than half of key muscles below the neurological level have a muscle grade of less than 3.
D - Indicates an "incomplete" spinal cord injury where motor function is preserved below the neurological level and at least half of the key muscles below the neurological level have a muscle grade of 3 or more.
E - Indicates "normal" where motor and sensory scores are normal. Note that it is possible to have spinal cord injury and neurological deficit with completely normal motor and sensory scores.
Treatment of Spinal Cord Injury
Medical experts agree immobilization is the first step in treating spinal cord injuries. Steroidal injections may also be given to the patient. These can reduce inflammation and swelling which can prevent further damage to the cells and tissue in the spinal cord.
Treatment from a well-qualified health professional is critically important for patients with spinal cord injuries. Health professionals that treatment spinal cord injury patients include neurosurgeons, neurologists, physiatrists, psychiatrists and psychologists, physical therapists and occupational therapists. Depending on the type of injuries, patients with spinal cord injuries may also require a respiratory therapist, speech therapist, nutritionist, special education teacher, and/or recreation therapist. Support groups can also greatly benefit those with spinal cord injuries.
When to Consult a Spinal Cord Injury Attorney
If you or someone you know has suffered a spinal cord injury as result of another' negligence, malpractice, or other misconduct, it is important to consult an attorney experienced in handling spinal cord injury cases. For cases in Illinois, contact Chicago Personal Injury and Medical Malpractice attorney Jason M. Kroot of Kroot Law, LLC, for a free consultation.