The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that carries messages between the brain and the rest of the body.
Acute spinal cord injury (SCI) is due to a traumatic injury that can either result in a bruise (also called a contusion), a partial tear, or a complete tear (called a transection) in the spinal cord.
SCI results in a decreased or absence of movement, sensation, and body organ function below the level of the injury. The most common sites of injury are the cervical and thoracic areas. SCI is a common cause of permanent disability and death in children and adults.
Anatomy of the spine:
The spine consists of 33 vertebrae, including the following:
• 7 cervical (neck)
• 12 thoracic (upper back)
• 5 lumbar (lower back)
• 5 sacral* (sacrum – located within the pelvis)
• 4 coccygeal* (coccyx – located within the pelvis)
* By adulthood, the five sacral vertebrae fuse to form one bone, and the four coccygeal vertebrae fuse to form one bone.)
These vertebrae function to stabilize the spine and protect the spinal cord. In general, the higher in the spinal column the injury occurs, the more widespread dysfunction a person will have.
Injury to the vertebrae does not always mean the spinal cord has been damaged. Likewise, damage to the spinal cord itself can occur without fractures or dislocations of the vertebrae.
What are the types of SCI?
SCI can be divided into two main types of injury:
• Complete injury
Complete injury means that there is no function below the level of the injury — either sensation and movement — and both sides of the body are equally affected. Complete injuries can occur at any level of the spinal cord.
• Incomplete injury
Incomplete injury means that there is some function below the level of the injury — movement in one limb more than the other, feeling in parts of the body, or more function on one side of the body than the other. Incomplete injuries can occur at any level of the spinal cord.
• SCI occurs mainly in young adults, ages 16 to 30.
• Eighty-two percent of SCI patients are male.
• There are about 8,000 new cases of SCI per year in the US.
• Current estimates indicate between 250,000 and 400,000 people in the US are living with a spinal cord injury or spinal dysfunction.
Causes of SCI include:
• Motor vehicle accidents – 44 percent
• Violence – 24 percent
• Falls – 22 percent
• Sports – eight percent (the majority of which occurs during diving accidents)
• Other – two percent
Nearly 10 percent of new SCI in the US occur in children ages one to 15