Spinal cord injuries occur more frequently than most people realize. Even the lowest estimates of SCI survivors in the US are in the neighborhood of 250,000.
Spinal cord injuries occur quickly, but the consequences can last a lifetime. In most cases, the injury begins when a significant force to the spine causes the bones of the spinal column—the vertebrae—to fracture or dislocate. The fibers of the cord get bruised or torn by the bones or other structures, like the spinal discs or ligaments, pressing on them.
The spinal cord is the means by which the brain communicates with the rest of the body. When fibers of the cord are damaged, some communications cannot get past the damaged area and any body functions that depend on the blocked signals are lost. It’s important to understand that, while we talk about SCIs as a single injury, the consequences of the injury vary tremendously, depending on how many fibers are affected and how severely they are injured. Severe SCIs high on the spinal cord result in a drastic loss of function that alters the victim’s life completely.
Causes of SCI
Most SCIs since 2010 have been caused by:
Language of SCI
In discussing SCIs, you need to be familiar with three concepts:
- Complete versus incomplete injury: this describes whether all the cord’s fibers have been damaged (complete) or whether some fibers remain functional
- Tetraplegia (formerly quadriplegia) versus paraplegia; the former involves loss of ability to use both upper and lower limbs, while the latter involves loss of lower limb function only
- Level of injury; the point on the spinal column where the injury is located, described by region (cervical, thoracic, etc.) and the specific vertebra within that region (C4, for example).
Direct Consequences of SCI
Depending on the location and severity of the cord injury, SCIs can cause:
- Either temporary or permanent paralysis below the location of the injury
- Total or partial loss of sensation below the location of injury
- Loss of autonomic nervous system function, including heart function and respiration
An SCI only damages functions at or below the location of the injury, meaning that the closer the injury site is to the brain, the more areas and functions of the body are affected. That is unfortunate given that the portion of the spinal cord most susceptible to an injury is the portion in the neck—the cervical region. The extent of the damage from a cervical SCI generally follows this pattern:
- Injuries at the level of C-6 and C-7 allow victims to recover some degree of independence after considerable rehabilitation.
- Injuries below C-7 leave the victim able to perform enough basic functions to remain independent.
- Injuries above C-6 leave the victim unable to perform basic functions (at least with the therapy and technology currently available).
Long Term Consequences
Typical long term consequences of SCI include:
- Shorter life span
- Difficulty finding and keeping a job; the degree of difficulty depends on a mix of the severity of injury and the victim’s personality
- Loss of critical functions (mobility, bowel and bladder, etc.)
- Mood, behavioral and emotional changes that may be severe
- Chronic or intermittent pain (sometimes in parts of the body which has lost feeling)
Spinal cord injuries are devastating and very expensive. Recovering adequate compensation from the person responsible for the injury is both crucial to the family’s future, and very complex. Proving many kinds of damages requires testimony from experts on everything from assistive technology to the finer points of vocational programs and job requirements.
Dallas attorney Aaron Herbert has the experience to see your SCI case through to the end; a settlement when that’s possible, and a verdict when it’s necessary to go to trial. He’s a Board Certified Personal Injury Trial Specialist and a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum. Call for a consultation today. We handle case throughout the State of Texas. If you can’t come to us, we’ll come to you.