Of all the injuries you can suffer in a car crash or other catastrophic event, sustaining a spinal cord injury may well be one of the worst. Why? Because an SCI paralyzes part or all of your body.
SCI statistics include the following:
- Upwards of 17,000 SCIs occur every year in the U.S.
- People between the ages of 16 and 30 sustain over 50% of these SCIs
- Males sustain 80% of these
- Motor vehicle accidents represent the leading SCI cause in younger people.
- Falls represent the leading SCI cause in older people.
- Males account for 90% of all SCIs caused by sports injuries.
Spinal cord anatomy
Your spinal cord runs down your back from the base of your brain to the bottom of your back, about 18 inches in an adult. Its purpose is to act as your body’s information super-highway, with messages passing back and forth between your brain and the rest of your body. Twenty-four vertebrae in the following three areas surround and protect your spinal cord:
- Cervical (neck) containing your C1-C7 vertebrae
- Thoracic (neck to waist) containing your T1-T12 vertebrae
- Lumbar (waist to hips) containing your L1-L5 vertebrae
An SCI to one or more of these vertebrae or your underlying spinal cord prevents messages from getting through, resulting in a decrease of voluntary movement and sensation below your point of injury. If you suffer an incomplete SCI, you may retain or regain some function and feeling. If you suffer a complete SCI, however, your ability to move or feel anything below your injury point ends and most likely will never return. Unfortunately, close to 50% of all SCIs are complete.
Paraplegia versus quadriplegia
You become paraplegic when you sustain an SCI to one or more of your lumbar or lower thoracic vertebrae. At best, paraplegia negatively affects your hips, legs and feet. At worst, it affects your lower torso as well.
You become quadriplegic when you sustain an SCI to one or more of your cervical or upper thoracic vertebrae. Quadriplegia negatively affects your arms, hands. fingers and most of your torso as well as your hips, legs and feet.
With either paraplegia or quadriplegia, you will not be able to walk and will, therefore, need to use a wheelchair to get from place to place.