Back trauma can injure the spinal cord. Spinal cord injuries happen when the nerves connecting the brain to your body get injured. The damage to those nerves can deprive you of your mobility and senses.
You can suffer massive losses due to a spinal cord injury. You might face a mountain of bills for care and treatment. You might miss a lot of work and may even need to quit your job due to your long-term disabilities.
Here are some facts to understand about a spinal cord injury and the compensation you or your loved ones may be able to recover after suffering one.
What is the Structure and Function of Your Spinal Cord?
The brain controls your nervous system by signaling your muscles and organs. Similarly, the signals from your body’s senses must reach your brain. Nerves carry these signals between your body and your brain.
The brain connects to two primary sets of nerves. The cranial nerves connect the brain to your head and neck. The spinal cord connects your brain to your body below the neck.
The spinal cord runs down your back through your spine. The spine includes vertebrae separated by discs. Each vertebra includes a cylindrical body and wing-shaped processes.
The vertebrae and discs stack so that the discs and bodies align. This stack creates the spinal column that supports your body. These individual vertebrae and discs also allow your back to bend and twist.
The gap between the spinal bodies and processes forms the spinal canal. The spinal cord runs through the spinal canal. Under normal conditions, the spine protects the nerves of the spinal cord from injury. However, trauma can sever or compress these nerves, leading to a spinal cord injury.
The nerves in your body, including those in your spinal cord, carry signals through a combination of chemistry and electricity. When these nerves get compressed, they inflame. The inflammation can cause the nerves to misfire.
When the nerves in the spinal cord get severed, they can no longer carry nerve signals. This causes a complete loss of nerve signals between the brain and body below the injury.
What Are Some Types of Spinal Cord Injuries?
The trauma associated with car accidents, falls, and other accidents can fracture vertebrae and damage discs. Fractured vertebrae and damaged discs can impinge on or even sever the nerves in the spinal cord.
Spinal cord injuries fall into a few broad types, including:
Complete Spinal Cord Injury
In a complete spinal cord injury, all of the nerves in the spinal cord get severed. This results in total paralysis below the injury. The brain cannot send any signals below the injury, and the body below the injury cannot send signals to the brain.
The location of the injury determines the extent of the paralysis. A complete spinal cord injury just below the skull will cause death. The nerves that control the lungs run through this area. When they get severed, the accident victim cannot breathe and will die.
An injury to the spinal cord in the neck will cause quadriplegia, which is paralysis from the neck down. An injury to the spinal cord in the back will cause paraplegia, a paralysis of the lower body.
Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury
In an incomplete spinal cord injury, some, but not all, of the nerves in the spinal cord get severed. An incomplete spinal cord injury will produce partial paralysis. This paralysis can manifest in many ways, including paralysis in only one side of the body. Alternatively, it could result in paralysis in a portion of a limb, such as the feet, but not the rest of the limb.
Although doctors cannot repair a severed spinal cord, the brain can sometimes remap itself. Through a characteristic called neuroplasticity, the brain can use the intact nerves to control some of the functions lost when the other nerves were severed.
What Are Some Spinal Cord Injury Symptoms?
The nerves carry three types of signals. Depending on the nerves that get severed, your brain could lose the ability to send some or all of these nerve signals, including:
These nerve signals control involuntary responses like:
- Temperature regulation
- Sexual arousal
When you lose the nerves that carry autonomic signals, you could experience symptoms like:
- Irregular breathing
- Inability to sweat
- Sexual dysfunction
These symptoms can substantially affect your quality of life. They may even prove fatal without ongoing medical treatment, therapy, and assistance.
Motor signals tell your body to move.
Symptoms you might experience after severing the nerves that carry motor signals include:
- Muscle spasms
- Loss of dexterity
- Limited range of motion
For example, bowel and bladder control require motor signals to control urination and defecation. If you damage the motor signals running to the bladder and colon, you might experience these symptoms.
Sensory signals tell your body about your environment.
When you lose the nerves that carry sensory signals, you can experience symptoms that include:
- Loss of sensitivity to heat and cold
Your skin collects a lot of information for your brain. Without sensory signals, your brain loses the ability to gather information about temperature, texture, and pressure.
How Can You Get Compensation for a Spinal Cord Injury?
When someone else’s actions cause your spinal cord injury, the law usually entitles you to seek compensation from the at-fault party. This compensation can cover your economic and non-economic losses.
Your economic losses cover the financial impact of your injuries. Expenses for treatment, physical therapy, drugs, and assistance fall under your economic damages. Economic losses also include the wages you lost while recovering from your injuries.
Non-economic losses include the ways your injuries affected your quality of life. Pain, mental anguish, inability to perform tasks, and a loss of the ability to work fall under your non-economic losses.
Contact a Harrisburg Personal Injury Lawyer For Help After a Spinal Cord Injury
Spinal cord injuries represent some of the most catastrophic injuries an accident victim can suffer. The cost of medical treatment, therapy, and assistance can push accident victims to bankruptcy.