A spinal cord injury can interrupt movement and sensation in the body, causing loss of bodily functions, temporary or permanent immobility, and even complete paralysis.
The Impact of Spinal Cord Injuries
Adjusting to life after a spinal cord injury can be difficult because damage blocks communication between the body and the brain. The damage affects a person’s sensory and motor skills causing partial or complete dysfunction. The severity of the injury impacts the level of dysfunction which can range from mild to severe and temporary to permanent.
The spinal cord extends from the base of the brain down the middle of the back. Its main function is to carry messages between the body and the brain that allow a person to feel sensation and move freely. Nerves within the spinal cord tell the muscles in every body part how and when to move. They also carry messages to the brain about sensations like touch, temperature, and pain. With spinal cord injuries, a person can suffer a variety of problems such as loss of movement and sensation, loss of bladder or bowel control, muscle spasms, changes in sexual function, and chronic or intense pain.
Spinal cord damage often results from physical injuries caused by falls, car accidents, playing sports, and acts of violence. However, damage can also result from illnesses such as osteoporosis or arthritis, inflammation or infections, multiple sclerosis, and cancer. Injuries that occur at the higher part of the spinal cord near the neck cause the most severe dysfunction. These injuries can impact a person’s ability to breathe, speak, and move. People who sustain injuries to the high cervical nerves often end up in a wheelchair, bedridden, or paralyzed from the neck down.
Spinal cord injuries can impact every aspect of a person’s life. It may be difficult or impossible to do the same things that were normal prior to the injury. Depending on the severity of the injury, a person may require inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation, a hospital bed or wheelchair, medical assistance devices, and a nurse or personal caretaker. People who experience chronic pain or loss of mobility and independence often need psychological help with depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders.
Severe spinal cord injuries can result in periods of grief, anger, and denial. Proper medical care, physical rehabilitation, mental therapy, and family support is essential to make necessary adjustments, set new goals, and move forward in a different way of life.