Spinal Cord Injury is damage to the spinal cord that results in, either temporary or permanent, the loss of function such as mobility or feeling. The damage could occur due to quite a number of different causes: it could be due to a direct trauma to the spinal cord itself; compression from tumor, diseases or infection; loss of its normal blood supply; or possibly due to indirect damage to the bones, soft tissues, and vessels surrounding the spinal cord.
Here are some of the possible causes, including:
- Trauma such as car or motorcycle accident, falls, gunshots, diving accidents, war injuries, etc.
- Tumor such as meningiomas, ependymomas, astrocytomas, and metastatic cancer.
- Diseases, such as Friedreich’s ataxia, spinocerebellar ataxia, spina bifida, Multiple Sclerosis, transverse myelitis and polio etc.
- Vascular malformations, such as arteriovenous malformation (AVM), dural arteriovenous fistula (AVF), spinal hemangioma, cavernous angioma and aneurysm.
Typically, spinal cord injury begins with a sudden, strong and traumatic blow to the spine that fractures or dislocates vertebrae; resulting in displaced disc material, bone fragment or ligaments bruise or tear into spinal cord issue.
In most cases, the injuries to the spinal cord don’t completely sever it. Instead, it is more likely to cause fractures and compression of the vertebrae, which then crush, damage and destroy the axons. Axons are extensions of nerve cells within human body with the functionality of carrying signals up and down the spinal cord between the brain and the rest of the human body; and damaged to it will result in paralysis, either temporary or permanent.
An injury to the spinal cord can damage a few, many, or almost all of these axons and depending on the level of damages, some injuries will allow almost complete recovery whereas others will result in complete paralysis.
Back pain or back injuries such as disc disease, pinched nerves, spinal stenosis or ruptured disks are sometimes mistaken as the same as spinal cord injury, but, they are not the same thing. A person can “break their back or neck” and if the damages are only the bones around the spinal cord (the vertebrae), then the individual is not sustaining from a spinal cord injury. In these kinds of scenario, the individual may not experience paralysis after the bones are stabilized.
That being said, as long as the spinal cord is not affected, even when a person sustains a break in a vertebra or vertebrae, it is still not classified as a spinal cord injury.
Read more about what is spinal cord injury.