Medical News Today: A guide to the spinal cord: Anatomy and injuries

The spinal cord is a delicate part of the body. It is therefore susceptible to injury. Vehicle accidents, gunshot wounds, and damage while playing sports are all potential causes of spinal cord injury.

Due to the part it plays in providing movement and sensation, sustaining damage to any part of the spinal cord could cause permanent changes to a person’s functioning.

Healthcare providers may not always know right away how much function a person will lose after injury.

There are two main types of spinal cord injury: complete and incomplete.

A complete spinal cord injury causes a complete loss of sensation and motor function below the level of the injury.

According to the American Academy of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), almost half of all spinal cord injuries are complete. The spinal cord does not necessarily need to be physically cut for a complete injury to occur, but the damage might be so significant that blood cannot flow to the nerve tissue, causing it to die.

An incomplete spinal cord injury occurs when the person still has some function at or below the point of the injury. They may still be able to move one side of the body or have some function or sensation.

According to the AANS, around 250,000–450,000 people in the United States are living with a spinal injury.

Sometimes, surgical procedures and the passing of time can reduce some of the effects of a spinal cord injury. Doctors will often use repeated imaging scans and nerve function studies to determine how significant a person’s spinal cord damage may be.

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