Spine Injuries

Spine injuries involve damage to the spinal nerves of the spinal cord due to fall, accident, or trauma rather than injury, and may cause back pain, loss of sensory feeling, and paralysis.

Spine injuries may refer to breaks and tears in the vertebral bones and supporting soft tissues, or to the spinal cord itself. Injuries to the spinal cord itself are the most severe, since the spinal nerves show little capacity for regeneration. A spine injury describes an accident, fall, or trauma to the structures of the spinal cord, rather than arthritis, disease, or degenerative condition. Spine injuries may result in back pain, numbness, paralysis, and loss of bowel functioning. Spine injuries that result in paralysis may occur at any level of the spine containing the spinal cord, though paralysis related to cervical spine injuries are more common. The cervical spine is the most vulnerable to spine injury because of its location in the neck and base of the skull, where its facet joints allow for more movement and rotation, and its location away from the torso of the body. The spine and spinal cord within the thoracic and lumbar spine, have much more protection within the body.

The brain and nerves of the spinal cord together are part of the central nervous system. At each level of the spinal cord, a pair of nerve roots exit the spinal cord through each intervertebral foramina. At this point, the nerves become part of the peripheral nervous system. Both the nerves of the central and peripheral nervous system send and transmit signals that are destined for locations throughout the body. These nerves transmit sensory, motor, and autonomic information throughout organs and moving parts of the body. If the nerves are damaged due to injury or disease, they may fail to send and transmit this information. This is why victims of spinal cord injuries may lose the ability to feel, move, and have control over their bodily functions.

The types of disability that a person experiences as a result of their spinal cord injury depends on which parts of the spinal cord have been injured.

Not all spinal cord injuries result in temporary or permanent paralysis. A "complete" injury occurs when there is a total loss of sensory feeling, motor control, and body function. Spinal cord injuries that are "incomplete" do not result in paralysis or loss of function.

Spinal cord injuries have any possible causes. Some of the most common causes of spinal cord injuries include:
  • Falls where a person lands directly on their head or neck
  • Gun shot wounds where the spinal cord is pierced
  • Sports injuries
  • Motor vehicle accidents
The prognosis for spinal cord injuries varies from person to person, and there is no miracle cure, as of yet, that offer the restoration of function for the majority of people. In many cases, months of physical therapy, designed to stimulate new muscle growth and neurologic connections, does bring some restoration of function. Stem cell therapy is one treatment that offers hope towards the regeneration of nerves, though this type of treatment is not now available, and is still in the research phase of development.

Controlled hypothermia is one treatment that is currently in practice, and has saved lives from disability. One thing that happens when the spinal cord has become injured, or when the structures of the spine have become damaged in a trauma, is inflammation and swelling that builds up in that area. Due to the inflammation, swelling, and pressure, an already injured spine may become more compressed, increasing the severity of the injury. In a therapy called moderate hypothermia, the people administering the treatment try to instantly freeze the body by injecting freezing saline into the blood. The goal is to prohibit swelling and inflammation, which may cause spinal cord damage. This treatment probably saved Kevin Everett, and NFL football player (Buffalo Bills Tight end) who fractured his spine in a football game against the Denver Broncos. Luckily, there were paramedics and doctors on hand who were aware of this treatment, and had the products and equipment available to administer it. People who sustain injuries that Kevin Everett did typically have between a 5-10% chance of recovery of bodily functions. Today Kevin Everett has regained use of his arms and legs.