What is a Spinal Cord Injury?

21st May 2021

What is a Spinal Cord Injury?

Laura Hopkins, a legal executive in the Personal Injury team at Higgs & Sons, looks at the potential complications of a spinal cord injury.

It is no exaggeration to say the spinal cord carries out some of the most important functions for our bodies.

An extension of the brain, the spinal cord comprises thousands of nerves which carry messages from our brain to the rest of our body.

These messages allow us to move our body and control functions such as breathing, blood pressure, bladder and bowels. 

Damage or injury to the spinal cord – either by accident or medical mistake - can cause temporary or permanent changes to the communication between our brain and the rest of our body, resulting in a loss of movement and sensation from below the level of injury.  

If your spinal cord is damaged, the higher up you damage the spinal cord, the more movement will be lost.

Damage to your spinal cord in your back will result in paraplegia, affecting the movement and sensation in your legs and, possibly, stomach muscles.

Tetraplegia is the result of spinal cord damage in the neck, affecting movement and sensation in all four limbs, as well as stomach and some chest muscles.

Damage to the spinal cord affects more than just the ability to walk or move limbs.

The nerves in the spinal cord are responsible for making sure the bladder and bowel functions correctly.

Bladder dysfunction caused by spinal cord damage can manifest itself in two main ways. Sometimes, the signals that tell the brain that the bladder needs to be emptied fail to work.

On other occasions, the bladder is unable to hold urine. This means the bladder of the person with the spinal cord injury empties without warning, even though it is not full.

Bowel dysfunction can present in a similar way. It can either cause an inability to empty the bowels regularly, causing constipation, or a need to empty the bowels without warning.

With good medical advice, the bowels and bladder are capable of being managed to enable individuals to carry out everyday tasks without feeling. The nerves in the spinal cord also control sexual function. If these nerves are damaged, sexual dysfunction can occur.

Sometimes, damage to the nerves can result in ‘neuropathic pain’. This is nerve pain, which can be very distressing. Everyone is different and a loss of sensation does not automatically mean that the person with a spinal cord injury cannot feel some degree of pain.

As the spinal cord recovers from the injury, one may see some progress. It can take approximately two years to reach full potential with regard to movement and/or sensation following the injury. 

There is not yet any repair for spinal cord injury, but improvement and adaptation is possible.

At Higgs and Sons, we are passionate about helping people who have suffered spinal cord injury.

If you or a member of your family has been unfortunate enough to have suffered a spinal injury as a result of an accident or substandard medical treatment, our specialist team can assist.






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