The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord. In certain circumstances, persons who have sustained a traumatic brain injury may also sustain a spinal cord injury as result of trauma, which can result in serious care concerns.
The Brain and the Spinal Cord
The spinal cord is the elongated major column of nerve tissue that extends down from the base of the brain and lies within the vertebral canal and from which the spinal nerves emerge. The spinal cord consists of nerve cells and groups of nerves called tracts that transmit impulses to and from the brain. Thirty-one pairs of spinal nerves originate in the spinal cord: 8 cervical, 12 thoracic, 5 lumbar, 5 sacral, and 1 coccygeal, which connect the spinal cord to different parts of your body and conduct sensory and motor nerve impulses to and from the brain. Enclosed in the protective backbone, the spinal cord is essentially the ‘motorway’ to the Central Nervous System and is involved in the co-ordination of the body’s movement. Sensory tracts carry signals from body parts to the brain relating to heat, cold, pressure, pain and the position of your limbs. The lower end of your spinal cord stops a little above your waist in the region called the conus medullaris. Below this region is a group of nerve roots called the cauda equina. Like the brain, the spinal cord is covered by three connective-tissue envelopes called the meninges. The space between the outer and middle envelopes, known more commonly as “the cord,” is filled with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), a clear colorless fluid that cushions the spinal cord against jarring shock.
Types of Spinal Cord Injuries
Each year, approximately 12,000 new cases of spinal cord injuries are reported in the US. Of those 12,000 new cases, 38.3% of persons who sustain a spinal cord injury report incomplete tetraplegia as a result of their injury. 16.9% of cases result in complete tetraplegia. Persons with tetraplegia have sustained injuries to one of the eight cervical segments of the spinal cord. 22.9% of spinal cord injuries result in complete paraplegia, and 21.5% result in incomplete paraplegia. Persons with paraplegia have lesions in the thoracic, lumbar, or sacral regions of the spinal cord as a result of their injury.
Recovery From A Spinal Cord Injury
Recovery varies greatly upon the extent of injury. Less than 1% of persons experience complete neurologic recovery by the time they are discharged from the hospital and over 87.7% of persons once discharged will be sent to a private, non-institutional residence, most likely their home. 5.9% of injured persons will be discharged to a nursing home and others will be discharged to hospitals, group living situations or other destinations for continued care.
Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries
A traumatic spinal cord injury may stem from a sudden, traumatic blow to your spine that fractures, dislocates, crushes or compresses one or more of your vertebrae. It may also result from an act of violence, such as a gunshot or knife wound that penetrates and/or separates your spinal cord. Additional damage can occur because of complications such as bleeding, swelling, inflammation and fluid accumulation in and around your spinal column.
A non-traumatic spinal cord injury may be caused by arthritis, cancer, inflammation or infections, or disk degeneration of the spine.
According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistic Center, 41.3% of spinal cord injuries occur as a result of motor vehicle crashes or motorcycle accidents and are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries. 27.3% are the result of a slip or fall, 15% are caused by acts of violence, especially gunshot wounds, 7.9% are the result of recreational sporting activities or sporting accidents, and 8.5% of spinal cord injuries are caused by other unknown causes.
Whether the cause is traumatic or non-traumatic, people who survive a spinal cord injury will most likely have medical complications as a result of their injury. The damage affects the nerve fibers passing through the injured area and may impair part or all of the corresponding muscles and nerves below the injury site. A chest (thoracic) or lower back (lumbar) injury can affect the chest, abdomen, legs, bowel, bladder control, and sexual function. In addition, a neck (cervical) injury can affect the movements of the arms and, can possibly, impact your ability to breathe.
Risk Factors Of A Spinal Cord Injury
A spinal cord injury can happen to anyone, but males are at higher risk, and account for 80.8% of reported spinal cord injuries. More than half of those injured were employed at the time of the incident and the average age range is between 16 and 41 years of age. The elderly are specifically at risk for a spinal cord injury due to a fall, since they are more likely to have had a pre-existing condition such as arthritis, or osteoporosis, which can increase the risk of a spinal cord injury should a slip or fall occur.
Estimated Lifetime Costs Associated With A Spinal Cord Injury
The average yearly health care and living expenses for persons who have sustained a spinal cord injury are tremendous, and vary greatly according to the extent of the injury.
The table below provided by the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistic Center can provide a rough estimate for the different severity of injuries and is divided according to age group. The table does not, however, take into consideration any additional costs such as lost wages, even though more than half of those reported to have sustained a spinal cord injury reported being fully employed at the time of their injury. Nor does it account for lost benefits and productivity which together along with the lost wages can average an estimated $65,384 per year in US dollars. This figure can also vary based on education, severity of injury and pre-injury employment history.
Lifetime Costs of Ongoing Treatment
Lastly, these figures do not take into consideration expenses such as extended hospital stays, visits to rehabilitation centers, doctor’s visits, or other essential needs, such as wheelchairs, accessibility installations such as wheelchair accessible ramps, railings, elevators, etc., medical supplies, prescriptions, psychological or trauma counseling and/or caregiver expenses. Even with insurance and government assistance, there still may not be enough money to cover the added expense of support services or to pay for all of the equipment necessary to cope with a spinal cord injury, nevertheless living with tetraplegia or paraplegia on a daily basis, and the various needs that arise out of the initial diagnosis.
Legal Options: Do I Need A Spinal Cord Injury Lawyer?
If your spinal cord injury was caused as a result of actions performed by other persons or if someone contributed to your spinal cord injury, you may wish to file a lawsuit to recover your medical expenses and to provide for continuous care. A recovery resulting from a lawsuit can provide the necessary financial resources to cover the extensive care needed.
An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to gather the information, such as medical records, witness statements, physical evidence, and investigative research necessary to file a successful lawsuit on your behalf.