What Is Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)?

Spinal cord injury (SCI) is an injury of the spinal cord. SCI can be traumatic such as resulting from a motor vehicle accident, fall, sports injury, acts of violence, and surgical complications. It can also be non-traumatic such as resulting from a tumor or diseases .

The spinal cord is located in the spinal canal of the spine. The spine reaches from the nape of the neck to the sacral bone and forms the framework of our body. It consists of 33 single overlapping bones, the vertebrae. These are held together by disks, tendons and ligaments. The spine can be divided into five sections:

  • cervical spine (cervical, abbr. C)
  • thoracic spine (thoracic, abbr. T)
  • lumbar spine (lumbar, abbr. L)
  • sacral spine (sacral, abbr. S)
  • coccyx (tailbone)

The spinal cord, in principle, is a cord of nerves, and can be compared with a telephone cable that transports signals back and forth between the brain and the body. The spinal cord can be divided into four sections, which can be further subdivided into individual segments (neurotoms). In between the vertebrae, the nerves of the spinal cord branch off on each side to the respective body regions. There are

  • 8 cervical segments (C1 to C8)
  • 12 thoracic segments (T1 to T12)
  • 5 lumbar segments (L1 to L5)
  • 5 sacral segments (S1 to S5)

In case of a SCI, the spinal cord is damaged or even severed at a specific spot due to an accident or a health condition, resulting in a disruption of communication between the body parts below the damage and the brain. The damage of the spinal cord is called lesion. Important functions such as mobility (motor functions) or sensation (sensory functions) fail below the lesion.

Literature

  • Chin LS, Mesfin FB, Dawodu ST. Spinal cord injuries: Practice essentials, background, anatomy,  pathophysiology, etiology, epidemiology, prognosis, patient education. [Internet] 10 August 2017. Available from: http://www.emedicine.com/pmr/topic182.htm. Accessed March 2018.
  • Swiss Paraplegic Research. Community. [Wiki/Body & complications]. Spinal cord injury - What does this mean?  Basic knowledge about the injured body. [Internet] March 2018. Available from: https://community.paraplegie.ch/. Accessed March 2018.
  • Shepherd Center. Understanding spinal cord injury: What you should know about spinal cord injury and recovery. 2018. [Internet]  Available from: http://www.spinalinjury101.org/details/levels-of-injury. Accessed March 2018.

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