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The central nervous system is comprised of the brain and spinal cord. The spinal cord is responsible for carrying messages from the brain to the rest of the body to control muscle movement and for relaying sensory messages from the body back to the brain. When a spinal cord injury occurs motor and sensory function is disrupted, often resulting in paralysis. Although nontraumatic injuries do occur as a result of birth defects, diseases, tumors, surgical complications, infection, arthritis or degeneration of the spine, trauma is the most common cause of a cord injury.
Traumatic injuries are caused by a sudden, blunt force to the spine that fractures, crushes, compresses, or dislocates one or more of the vertebrae. Wounds from gun shots or stabbings can also penetrate and sever the cord. However, the initial trauma is then followed by a host of secondary reactions including a loss of oxygen and release of toxins at the injury site and swelling and inflammation of the cord.
Two important factors doctors and specialists consider when predicting the severity of the injury is the completeness of the injury and the level of injury.
Complete Injury: total lack of sensory (feeling) and motor function (movement) is gone below the level of the injury.
Incomplete Injury: some sensory and/or motor function remains below the level of injury.
Due to swelling it is difficult to determine whether a spinal cord injury is complete or incomplete until six to eight weeks post-injury. Fortunately, a wider use of neuroprotective therapies that aim to stop or reduce the immediate swelling, such as the steroid drug Methylprednisolone, have reduced the number of injuries in the complete category.
Level of Injury: defined as the lowest level of the spinal cord that has normal motor and sensory function
This very question is the reason the Injury Co-op exists. In the following questions that arise during various stages following a spinal cord injury will be discussed. The most important thing to remember is that being proactive for yourself or your loved one following a catastrophic injury is the first step in taking back control of an out-of-control situation.