Spinal cord injuries are unique and different than other types of broken bones, back injuries like spinal stenosis, ruptured disks, and pinched nerves. It is possible for a person to "break their back" or "break their neck" but not suffer a spinal cord injury, if only the bones surrounding the spinal cord are damaged, not the spinal cord itself. With a spinal cord injury, a victim's nervous system is effected, causing some or complete loss of sensory control or sensation. There is undisputedly a great deal of confusion surrounding spinal cord injuries, from diagnosis to identifying the level of the injury, to classifying the severity of an injury.
What is a "complete" spinal cord injury?
"Complete" spinal cord injuries are the most serious classification of injury. Generally speaking, a person with a "complete" spinal cord injury has no voluntary motor or conscious sensory function below the injury site. And the higher the location on the vertebra, the more a person is effected. Very high injuries (Cervical vertebrae 1 or Cervical vertebrae 2) can cause loss of involuntary functions, and patients may need mechanical ventilators or diaphragmatic pacemakers.
What are spinal cord injury "levels"?
The spinal cord, which itself is about 18 inches long, transmits nerve signals from the brain to specific areas of the body. It is located within the spine and protected by the bones of the back (vertebrae). There are seven cervical (neck), twelve thoracic (chest), five lumbar (lower back), and five sacral (tail) vertebrae. Injuries to the spinal cord are identified based on which vertebrae they occurred nearest.
Why is the location of the injury important?
Based on the exact location (level) of the injury on the spinal cord, doctors will be able to predict what areas of the body will be affected, and what types of care the victim will need. As a general rule, the higher on the spinal column the injury occurred, the less functioning the victim will have. For example, a person with a SCI in the thoracic region (lower back) will be able to use their arms and hands. A person with a SCI in the cervical region (neck) will likely have loss of function in all four limbs. In any case, no matter where the injury occurred, any complete spinal cord injury is considered a catastrophic, and very often life-threatening injury. With a complete SCI, the patient will not have any sensation or voluntary movement below the level of injury. Incomplete spinal cord injuries are becoming increasingly common, with better acute care and advances in medicine.
What are spinal cord injury "classes" ?
Because spinal cord injuries vary greatly from one person to another, doctors will assign a degree of impairment of a spinal cord injury according to the ASIA scale (designed by the American Spinal Cord Injury Association). This helps doctors understand the types of impairment a victim is suffering, and how their injury uniquely effects them. On the ASIA scale, a complete injury is termed an "A" injury. This is the most serious type of injury. Most hospitals use the ASIA Spinal Cord Injury Classification approach.
What costs are associated with spinal cord injuries?
The average costs of the first year of care for a newly injured spinal cord injury victim is close to $250,000, including hospitalization, initial rehabilitation, home accommodation modifications, and medical equipment. After that, costs of care average about $25,000 a year. Combined with loss of income, spinal cord injuries can be financially devastating. Many times, serious injuries like spinal cord injuries and other catastrophic injuries like brain injuries, occur through the negligent actions of others. If you or a member of your family have been hurt in a serious accident, it is well worth your time to explore your legal rights to obtain compensation for spinal cord injury related expenses, medical care and pain and suffering. Contact an attorney with experience and proven results handling spinal cord injuries - most offer a free consultation.