Most spinal cord injuries are the result of a traumatic impact—like a motor vehicle crash—that fracture or displace the vertebrae and leave the spinal cord vulnerable to damage. Some spinal cord injuries allow for full recovery, but many lead to partial or complete paralysis and require long-term care.
The personal injury attorneys at Boller & Vaughan are dedicated to helping injury victims from the greater Madison, Wisconsin, area pursue the financial security they need to cope with medical expenses and move forward with their lives. Our lawyers have an extensive record of success in catastrophic injury cases, including those related to spinal cord injuries. If you or a loved one suffered harm due to another’s negligence, please call us at 608-268-0268 to schedule your free consultation and learn how we can help you.
Spinal Column and Spinal Cord Anatomy
The spinal cord is sort of the body’s information superhighway. It is a vital element of the central nervous system that serves as a network to relay information between the brain and the body.
The spinal cord is protected by the spinal column, which is the body’s support structure and is composed of the interlocking bones known as vertebrae. Most, though not all, people have 33 vertebrae that enclose the spinal cord from the base of the skull to the tailbone.
The spinal column is medically classified in five sections:
- Cervical: The seven vertebrae from the bottom of the skull to the lower neck
- Thoracic: The 12 vertebrae that span from the upper shoulders through the middle back
- Lumbar: The five vertebrae from the mid back to the lower back
- Sacrum: The five vertebrae from the lower back to the tailbone
- Coccyx: The four vertebrae at the base of the tailbone
A spinal cord injury (SCI) may occur when the spinal cord is exposed to damage due to impact that fractures or penetrates the vertebrae, or due to an unnatural extension or flexion of the spinal column and spinal cord. SCIs are often classified as incomplete or complete; an incomplete injury means the ability of the spinal cord to convey information to and from the brain remains, while a complete injury means there is a lack of sensory and motor function below the location where the injury occurred.
Types of Spinal Cord Injuries
Even those with incomplete SCIs can suffer impaired function, and the loss of function tends to be more widespread the higher up the spinal column the injury site. The extent and duration of impairment from an SCI depends largely on where along the spinal column the damage was suffered.
Spinal cord injuries to the cervical area of the spine may result in:
- Loss of feeling below the neck
- Loss of self-sustaining respiratory function
- Loss of bodily function control
- Loss of sexual function
SCIs to the thoracic region may cause:
- Loss of feeling below the waist
- Loss of physical dexterity
- Loss of some bodily function control
- Loss of muscle control in the abdominal area
Spinal cord injuries to the lumbar and sacrum sections may lead to:
- Loss of leg muscle control
- Loss of bladder control
- Loss of sexual function
While injuries to the coccyx region of the spinal column may cause significant discomfort and be slow to mend, coccyx injuries are often treatable and eventually heal with no lingering adverse effects.
Spinal Cord Injury Causes
Most spinal cord injuries are the result of a sudden, jarring impact, although any substantially unnatural motion to the spine can contribute to an SCI. Spinal cord injuries are a common byproduct of motor vehicle accidents, including:
- Car accidents
- Tractor-trailer accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Pedestrian-vehicle accidents
According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC), motor vehicle accidents account for nearly 40 percent of all spinal cord injuries. Sports—particularly diving and winter sports like skiing and sledding—account for about 8 percent of SCIs. Other causes of spinal cord injuries include accidental falls and acts of violence.
Spinal Cord Injury Effects
In addition to the location and severity of the injury, an SCI’s effects on the body also depend on whether the spinal cord nerves were damaged or severed. Spinal cord injuries often result in permanent changes in feeling and body function control below the site of the damage.
Beyond the section-specific effects detailed above, any SCI can also result in a wide range of other conditions that include:
- Partial or total loss of limb function and control
- Breathing problems
- Partial or total loss of some bodily functions
- Circulatory problems
- Sexual dysfunction
Spinal cord injuries and their related complications can be deadly, and even those with treatable SCIs often need years of rehabilitation and physical therapy following initial surgical treatment. In many cases, SCI victims require lifetime assistance and medical care.
Spinal Cord Injury Treatment
There is currently no way to reverse, or “cure,” spinal cord damage. However, research into spinal cord injuries and potential treatments is ongoing.
In recent years, scientists have developed a greater understanding of how spinal cord injuries affect the body, and there have been substantial advancements in the use of prosthetics and medications to help those with SCIs improve their quality of life. Some medications that are now the subject of clinical testing have demonstrated promise in encouraging the regeneration of nerve cells, as well as improving the function of intact nerves damaged by spinal cord injuries.
The goal of SCI treatment is to prevent further complications associated with spinal cord damage and to offer SCI victims a good quality of life. Through prescription medications, recurring care, and modifications to one’s home, vehicle and lifestyle, many who suffer from spinal cord injuries are able to re-establish some independence.
The costs of living with a spinal cord injury, however, are high. Medical expenses related to SCIs may reach hundreds of thousands of dollars in the first year of treatment and care, and can range into the millions of dollars over the course of a lifetime.
Working with a knowledgeable personal injury attorney can strengthen your ability to recover the financial security you and your family need to face the injury and related expenses, and move forward with your lives. Information and personal support for SCI victims and their families are also available locally through Madison SCI, a chapter of the United Spinal Association.
If you or a loved one suffered a spinal cord injury due to another’s negligence, please contact Boller & Vaughan online or call us at 608-268-0268 to schedule your free consultation with one of our accomplished personal injury lawyers. We are dedicated to protecting the rights of injury victims from the greater Madison, Wisconsin, area.