The spinal cord is the major bundle of nerves carrying impulses to and from the brain to the rest of the body. Rings of bone, called vertebrae, surround the spinal cord. These bones constitute the spinal column or back bones.
Spinal cord injury is the result of a direct trauma to the nerves themselves or indirect damage to the bones and soft tissues and vessels surrounding the spinal cord.
On the night of March 28, 1986, Howard Heit's car was struck in a head-on collision. He left the scene of the serious crash thinking how lucky he was that he hadn't been hurt. "And then four to six weeks later, I started noticing twitches in the muscles of my neck and upper back. These progressed to marked spasms of my neck, shoulders, and upper back," he recalls.
The pain never ceased. All day, every day it plagued him. It became difficult for him to walk -- and almost impossible for him to work...
Spinal cord damage results in a loss of function, such as mobility or feeling. In most people who have spinal cord injury, the spinal cord is intact. Spinal cord injury is not the same as back injury, which may result from pinched nerves or ruptured disks. Even when a person sustains a break in a vertebra or vertebrae, there may not be any spinal cord injury if the spinal cord itself is not affected.
Causes of Spinal Cord Injury
Spinal cord injuries may result from falls, diseases like polio or spina bifida (a disorder involving incomplete development of the brain, spinal cord, and/or their protective coverings), motor vehicle accidents, sports injuries, industrial accidents, and assaults, among other causes. If the spine is weak because of another condition, such as arthritis, minor injuries can cause spinal cord trauma.
Types of Spinal Cord Injury
There are two kinds of spinal cord injury -- complete and incomplete. In a complete injury, a person loses all ability to feel and voluntarily move below the level of the injury. In an incomplete injury, there is some functioning below the level of the injury.