How does a spinal cord injury affect the body?

A traumatic spinal cord injury (or “SCI”) can be due to damage to the vertebrae, ligaments, or disks of the spinal column or to the spinal cord itself. The spinal cord, which is a bundle of nerves that runs through the spinal canal from the base of the brain to the lower back, carries messages between the brain and the rest of the body. These messages control important bodily functions, including movement and sensation. How does a spinal cord injury affect the body? When the spinal cord is damaged – for example, as a result of a major car accident – messages from the brain cannot get through. Each spinal cord injury is unique and the way this disruption in communication affects the rest of the body will depend on several factors.

Level of a spinal cord injury is an important factor

The bundle of nerves that run from the brain and through the spinal column enter and exit the spinal cord at specific levels. The nerves at each level of the spine travel to specific areas of skin, muscles, and organs of the body:

  • At the top of the spine are the cervical levels (C1-C8), which control breathing, head, neck, hand, and arm function.
  • Next are the thoracic levels (T1-T12), which control the chest and abdominal muscles.
  • After that are the lumbar levels (L1-L5), which control the hips and legs and are involved with bowel, bladder, and sexual function.
  • At the base of the spine are the sacral levels (S1-S5), which are also involved in controlling the legs and bowel, bladder, and sexual function.

As such, the higher the injury on the spinal cord, the greater the chance of dysfunction. Those who sustain catastrophic injury as a result of a major car accident may be left with paralysis and partial or total loss of use of the limbs (known as quadriplegia or paraplegia).

Severity of spinal cord injury is another factor

While the level of injury in the spine is the most significant factor, the affect on the body also depends on whether the injury is complete or incomplete. If the motor vehicle accident causes a “complete” spinal cord injury, the levels above the damage continue to function but the levels below the damage will be affected.  If the motor vehicle accident causes an “incomplete spinal cord injury” some motor or sensory function will be preserved below the level of injury in the spinal cord because some nerve signals remain able to travel past the injured area.

Other factors in how a spinal cord injury may affect the body

In addition to the level of the injury and whether the SCI is complete or incomplete, there are other factors that may play a role in how the injury affects the body. For example:

  • Treatment received in the immediate aftermath of the car accident and during the recovery period in the weeks and months following the car accident can have an impact on how the body is affected.  An accident victim will likely require equipment, assistive devices, or new therapies to improve functionality or lessen the affects of the spinal cord injury.
  • As our Vancouver personal injury lawyers previously discussed, normal age-related changes can be accelerated for those who have a spinal cord injury. Aging can also bring about additional complications for people with a spinal cord injury.

Get legal advice from a top Vancouver personal injury lawyer

If you suffered a spinal cord injury as a result of a motor vehicle accident, contact Simpson, Thomas & Associates at (604) 689-8888 to request a free consultation. We have considerable experience handling ICBC claims involving spinal cord injuries, including complex personal injury claims involving quadriplegia and paraplegia. Our highly experienced Vancouver spinal cord injury lawyers will assist you in getting the help you need and develop your claim against ICBC to get the compensation you deserve.



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