Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Spinal Cord Injuries

What is the Spinal Cord

The spinal cord is a long, thin tubular bundle of nervous tissue and support cells extending from the brain down the middle of the back. It is surrounded and protected by the bony vertebral column.

The spinal cord carries messages between the brain and the rest of the body allowing you to move, feel, and touch.

The lower spine has a series of vertebra through which the spinal cord runs. Each vertebra is separated by a disc cushioning the vertebra and promoting comfortable disc movement as we bend. Nerves controlling the lower body’s muscle function branch from the spinal cord and pass through spaces in the vertebra as they connect to various muscles.

What is a Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal cord injuries stop the flow of messages below the site of the injury. The closer the injury is to the brain, the more the body is affected.

The discs separating the vertebra are made up of a jelly-like center disc material encased in a strong fibrous like covering. If the disc covering is damaged, the disc material partially escapes causing the disc material to come into contact with an adjacent nerve root coming off the spinal cord or touching or impinging upon the spinal cord itself.

The escape of the disc material from within a lumbar disc is called a "herniation".

How Are Spinal Cord Injuries Caused

Spinal cord injuries commonly result from trauma caused by a car accident, motorcycle accident, or fall.

Radiologists distinguish how much the disc material is pushing out of the disc with terms like bulge (the least amount), protrusion, herniation and frank herniation (total escape of the material). These conditions may be caused by the wear and tear process of disc degeneration as we age, an injury from trauma, or a combination of the two.

Pain Created By Spinal Cord Injuries

The escaped disc material’s contact with the nerves causes pain and, for most people with a herniated disc, low back pain is initial symptom.

The pain may last for a few days, then improve and often is followed by the eventual onset of additional symptoms such as numbness, weakness and leg pain.

This leg pain typically occurs in - - and moves through - - the back and buttock down into the knee, ankle and foot.

Symptoms include back pain, leg and/or foot pain (sciatica), and weakness/numbness in the leg and/or foot.

Whiplash Distinguished From Spinal Cord Injury

“Whiplash” is a non-medical term describing neck pain often diagnosed as cervical sprain, cervical strain, or hypertension injury.

Whiplash is caused by the neck and head being thrown suddenly backward then forward upon impact, such as in a car crash.

The impact forces the neck and head beyond their normal range of movement, causing tissue damage and pain.