Spinal cord injuries can be devastating to all those they affect, whether directly or through a loved one. These injuries are especially heartbreaking when they are a result of negligence, including medical malpractice. In those instances, serious injuries are avoidable, making a spinal cord injury even more difficult for the injured.
Like most forms of serious injury, spinal cord injuries come in several forms. These forms also vary in severity, as well as in the treatment they will require.
If you have suffered a spinal cord injury due to negligence or medical malpractice, no matter the severity, then it’s time to get in touch with an experienced San Diego spinal cord injury attorney. Whenever you work alongside a skilled attorney, it is far more likely that you will receive the settlement you deserve.
What Are the Different Spinal Cord Injuries?
Broadly speaking, there are two different categories of spinal cord injuries. These are:
Complete Spinal Cord Injury
When an individual suffers a complete spinal cord injury, the affected area of their spinal cord will be permanently damaged. Injuries of this type will never fully heal and may continue to impact the individual’s life far after the incident that causes the injury. Complete spinal cord injuries can lead to either paraplegia or tetraplegia.
When someone experiences a complete spinal cord injury, their brain is no longer able to receive signals from the site of their injury. Thus, if the injury occurs in the lumbar spinal cord, then that individual may experience paralysis below the waist; however, that patient may still retain mobility in their arms and upper body. This is paraplegia.
On the other hand, a complete spinal cord injury in someone’s cervical spine can lead that person to totally lose motor function in both the lower and upper halves of their body. This is known as tetraplegia, although this condition is also sometimes known as quadriplegia. Tetraplegia is a devastating condition for someone to experience, as it can permanently and completely alter their day-to-day quality of life.
Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury
As the name would imply, spinal cord injuries of this type lead only to partial damage to a person’s spinal cord. However, this does not mean that incomplete spinal cord injuries aren’t severe—instead, they are simply the best-case scenario, compared to receiving a complete spinal cord injury.
The severity of incomplete spinal cord injury symptoms can vary quite a bit and is dependent, in part, upon the location of the injury along a person’s spinal cord. Individuals with this type of spinal cord injury will experience varying degrees of mobility and sensation. Further, the outcome is partially dependent upon the individual’s health and medical history. Healthier individuals are more likely to experience less severe symptoms compared to those who were already experiencing health complications prior to receiving the injury.
While incomplete injuries will not result in paraplegia or tetraplegia, they can still cause a person to develop triplegia. Triplegia is a condition that leads to the loss of movement and sensation in a singular arm, as well as in both legs.
Although incomplete spinal cord injuries come in a variety of forms, some of the most common are:
- Anterior Cord Syndrome
This particular injury impacts the front of a person’s spinal cord. Anterior cord syndrome leads to damaged motor and sensory pathways within the patient’s spinal cord. Individuals with this particular condition may retain some level of sensation, although they are likely to experience significant difficulties with movement.
- Central Cord Syndrome
When a patient is affected by central cord syndrome, they have received a spinal cord injury in the center of the cord. Injuries of this type lead to nerves being damaged, which then results in difficulties sending signals from the brain to the person’s spinal cord. This can lead to a number of severe repercussions, including paralysis of the arms, loss of fine motor skills, as well as partial impairment in the individual’s legs. It is also possible for central cord syndrome to cause loss of bladder or bowel control; further, this injury can lead to someone losing the ability to sexually function.
- Brown-Sequard Syndrome
This particular type of incomplete spinal cord injury can vary a great deal, depending on the patient it is affecting. Brown-Sequard Syndrome will affect just one side of a person’s spinal cord. For this reason, it is entirely possible for someone with this condition to retain full mobility and sensation on one half of their body while experiencing different degrees of paralysis or sensation loss on the other side. Still, there is no single way that a person will suffer the effects of Brown-Sequard Syndrome.
What Is the Most Common Spinal Injury?
Overtime, we have gotten more familiar with how to best respond to spinal cord injuries. Due to the importance of quick and effective response, the medical world has increased its understanding of how to handle these situations immediately following the event leading to injury.
Due to this increased knowledge of how to respond to and treat these types of injuries, incomplete spinal cord injuries have become the more common form; in turn, complete spinal cord injuries now encompass a smaller percentage of total spinal cord injuries. In fact, around 60% of all spinal cord injuries are incomplete rather than complete. This is an important sign that, as time goes on, we are improving in our treatment and rehabilitation methods for spinal cord injury.
What Are the Levels of Spinal Cord Injury?
As the spinal cord itself is broken up into four distinct sections, there are four levels of spinal cord injury. Depending on where the injury occurs, it will be classified as a different level. Further, certain levels of spinal cord injury are more serious than others, while others are more treatable and have a better prognosis. Recovery outcomes can vary quite substantially, depending on the area that is affected.
The four sections of the spinal cord are cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral. In each section of the spine, different nerves are housed, controlling different parts of the body. Worth noting is that the higher on the spine the injury occurs, the more serious it is likely to be.
Cervical Spinal Cord Injury
More often than not, cervical spinal cord injuries are going to be the most severe. These injuries are higher up on the spine, in the neck, meaning that they are closer to the brain. This region of the spinal cord also impacts a larger portion of the body compared to other levels of the cord.
Injuries in this region of the spinal cord lead to tetraplegia. As we had discussed earlier, tetraplegia describes the substantial or total loss of movement and feeling below someone’s neck and shoulders. These effects will typically be permanent and come with a vast host of other complications.
Unfortunately, injuries to the cervical spinal cord are often fatal. Even in instances where the affected individual does not die, they will still suffer from lifelong disability and complications as a result of their injury.
The most severe cervical spinal cord injuries occur in the vertebrae at the very top of the spine. Some patients who experience injury to this area may not even be able to breathe on their own. They are also likely to require around-the-clock personal care to go about their daily lives following the injury.
Thoracic Spinal Cord Injury
Moving down the spine, this is the level of spinal cord injury just below the cervical. When a person receives a thoracic spinal cord injury, it is the vertebrae in their upper and middle back that will be impacted.
Depending on which section of thoracic vertebrae is affected, different regions of the body could be impacted. For instance, if the injury occurs somewhere within the upper five vertebrae, then the affected nerves are linked to a person’s muscles, upper chest, mid-back, and abdominal muscles. These muscles and nerves are especially vital, as they are used to help a person breathe.
On the other hand, if the bottom seven thoracic vertebrae are the site of the injury, then the damaged nerves are affecting an individual’s abdominal and back muscles. These muscles are necessary to help someone maintain proper balance and posture; they can also aid in coughing or allowing the body to expel foreign matter from the airway.
Paraplegia is a common consequence of thoracic spinal cord injuries; the patient’s trunk and legs are highly likely to be impacted by this type of injury.
Lumbar Spinal Cord Injury
Continuing to move further down the spine, lumbar spinal cord injuries occur in the lowest major portion of someone’s spinal cord. Compared to all other sections of the spine, the lumbar spine is responsible for carrying the greatest amount of weight. As such, the vertebrae found in this region of the spinal cord are larger than in both the cervical and thoracic sections.
When an individual suffers a lumbar spinal cord injury, they are likely to experience some loss of function in their legs and hips. However, much of the time, these patients will retain total function over the upper body.
Nonetheless, loss of control over the bladder and bowel is still a common occurrence following lumbar spinal cord injury, just like it is with injuries higher up on the spinal cord.
Individuals in this category will have varying levels of mobility following their injury, although they will likely require either a wheelchair or braces. Still, this depends on the overall strength of their legs.
Sacral Spinal Cord Injuries
Finally, sacral spinal cord injuries occur just below the lumbar spine, although they are located above the tailbone. The sacral region of the spine houses nerves that control pelvic organs. This includes a person’s bladder, bowel, and sex organs.
After experiencing an injury to their sacral spinal cord, a patient will likely lose some (but not all) functionality of their hips and legs. They are also likely to lose voluntary control over their bladder and bowels. Nonetheless, a good portion of the time, these individuals will still be able to walk on their own.
Sacral spinal cord injuries are rare and typically result following trauma directly to the sacral area.
Can You Recover From a Complete Spinal Cord Injury?
Although the road to recovery with a spinal cord injury is anything but simple, there are potential treatments for patients to consider.
One of the most promising forms of treatment for complete spinal cord injury is known as electric stimulation. This treatment is achieved through implanting a stimulator onto the spine of the patient. Then, this stimulator will begin to emit electric currents, which are intended to mimic brain signals to paralyzed muscles.
Although this treatment is not as effective as it is with incomplete spinal cord injury, it can still lead to a significant improvement of symptoms over time.
Another experimental method, known as stem cell treatment, is also beginning to show promise as an effective treatment for complete spinal cord injury
Still, there is currently no cure for a complete spinal cord injury—but treatments and rehabilitation methods are improving as time goes on.
What Is the Best Treatment for Spinal Cord Injury?
There is not necessarily a single best treatment for spinal cord injury. Rather, in most cases, patients will receive a combination of different treatments intended to alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life. Primarily, this involves rehabilitation techniques as well as medications. Specific experimental techniques can also be employed, such as electric stimulation, as described earlier.
Hire a San Diego Spinal Cord Injury Attorney
If you have recently suffered a spinal cord injury due to medical malpractice or the negligence of another party, then it’s critical to work with a spinal cord injury attorney. You deserve to be compensated for what you have gone through, and Kenneth M. Sigelman and Associates will help ensure that this happens. If you are in the San Diego, California, area and would like to schedule a case evaluation, then you can get in touch with us through our website.