Understanding Your Spine And Spinal Cord Injuries

January 15th, 2019 Becki Andrus

It has been estimated that around 17,700 new spinal cord injuries take place in the United States every year. These numbers do not even include the injuries in which individuals die at the location of the incident. The number of people that are currently living with spinal cord injuries in the U.S. is currently estimated to be nearly 300,000 (288,000).

Around 78% of new spinal cord injuries each year occur with males, while the average age of injury is now 43-years old. The most common causes of these spinal cord injuries are vehicle accidents (automobile, motorcycle, other recreational vehicles) followed by falls and acts of violence. While the vehicle accidents are the primary source for spinal cord injuries in the U.S. among people age 65 and younger, falls cause the majority of these injuries for people 65+.

The average life expectancy for individuals with spinal cord injuries remains far below the life expectancies of people who do not have these injuries. Anyone who experiences the injuries that are discussed in these facts and figures clearly must contend with situations that are extremely impactful. This is not only true for the person who suffers the injury, but also for their family and friends, as the result of the complications that occur after the injury has been suffered.

Many people who do experience an unfortunate injury to the spine are often forced to learn terminology that they previously were not familiar with, while this is also the case for people who are attempting to assist them after the injury. That is why it can be beneficial to have a greater understanding of the specifics concerning the spine. Knowing where the regions of the spinal cord are located is helpful in understanding how injuries are diagnosed and treated. It will also help you explain your situation to a doctor, and ask the most critical questions, should you ever face a problem with your spine.

The cervical spinal cord can be found at the top of the overall spinal cord, which is connected to the brain. There are seven vertebrae in the area, and they are usually referred to as C1-C7, with C-1 residing at the top of this section. Immediately below the cervical spinal cord is the second section, which is called the thoracic spinal cord. This can be found in the middle of the overall spinal cord, and it consists of 12 vertebrae that are numbered T1 -T12.

Below the thoracic spinal cord is the third region, which is referred to as the lumbar spinal cord. This can be found at the lower portion of the overall spinal cord where the cord starts to band. There are five lumbar vertebrae, and they are referred to as L1 to L5. Finally, the next region of the overall spinal cord is called the sacral spine (sacrum), followed by the Coccyx (tailbone).

Spinal cord injuries can be placed in two different categories – complete, and incomplete. Complete injuries can occur anywhere along the spinal cord and will result in the inability to function anywhere below the injury itself.  Incomplete injuries can also take place at any level of the spinal cord, although the patient can still function below the point of injury. Over 60% of all spinal cord injuries are considered incomplete.

Spinal cord injuries are not always obvious when they first occur, but the amount of time between any injury and its treatment is crucial. Because it will impact the extent of the injury, and how it is treated.

Here is a list of signs and symptoms of possible spinal cord injuries:

Signs and Symptoms of Possible SCI:

  • Extreme pain or pressure in the neck, head or back
  • Tingling or loss of sensation in the hand, fingers, feet or toes
  • Partial or complete loss of control over any part of the body
  • Urinary or bowel urgency, incontinence or retention
  • Difficulty with balance and walking
  • Abnormal band-like sensations in the thorax — pain, pressure
  • Impaired breathing after injury
  • Unusual lumps on the head or spine

If you, someone in your family, or one of your friends is dealing with a back problem, there is hope.  There are many different types of health practitioners that care for patients with back and spinal conditions, and each has a slightly different skillset. Locating the right health professional will depend on your exact symptoms, along with the amount of time that the symptoms have been present.

Fortunately, Orthopedic Associates can offer you two of the best spine doctors available. Both Brady G. Giesler, M.D. and John C. McElroy, M.D. are skilled professionals that can treat your back issues and pain. Their overall goal is to determine your specific problem, while also taking care to minimize the amount of disruption that may occur in the patient’s lifestyle.

While spine surgery is typically a choice of last resort after all nonsurgical methods have been exhausted, our back doctors are available to successfully diagnose and solve the problem. Most common problems our back doctors range from moderate to severe. But you shouldn’t assume that your issues will go away naturally. You could have a herniated disc or damaged vertebrae which will simply not respond without surgical treatments. While studies show that more than half of back surgeries are unnecessary, there are times when surgery is the answer. Speaking with a back doctor is a smart strategy to your road to recovery.

If you any questions, or if you are dealing with a back issue, we offer multiple solutions. Both with or without surgery, which makes it easier to find a solution that works best for you. Visit one of Orthopedic Associates two locations or request an appointment today to be on your way to feeling better.

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