Spinal cord injury describes damage to the spinal cord that results in loss of function, mobility or feeling. The spinal cord does not have to be severed in order for injury to occur; in fact, most people with spinal cord injury have their spinal cord intact.
Each year, 10,000 people suffer spinal cord injury. The majority of the people who suffer are males between the ages of 16 and 30.
The spinal cord is the bundle of nerves that carries impulses between the brain and the rest of the body. Stacked rings of bone called vertebrae protect the spinal cord from injury and displacement.
The spinal cord is roughly 18 inches long and stretches from the base of the brain, down the middle of the back, to the waist. The nerves that lie within the spinal cord are called upper motor neurons (UMN). UMN carry messages back and forth from the brain to the spinal nerves along the spinal column. The spinal nerves that branch out from the spinal cord to other parts of the body are lower motor neurons (LMN). LMN connect at the vertebrae and communicate with the rest of the body. The sensory portions of the LMN carry messages about sensation from the skin and other body parts and organs to the brain. The motor portions of the LMN send messages from the brain to the various body parts to initiate actions such as muscle movement.
The spinal column is divided into three regions. The cervical spine describes the eight vertebras in the neck. The thoracic spine describes the 12 vertebrae in the chest, and the lumbar spine describes the 10 vertebrae in the lumber/sacral spine, between the waist and the buttocks. The higher on the spinal column the injury occurs, the more functionality a person loses. Cervical injury can result in loss of function in the arms and legs, or in the inability to breathe on your own, if the injury is high enough. Thoracic injury causes loss of movement in the chest and legs, and lumbar injury results in some loss of leg and hip mobility.