Common Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries
A spinal cord injury (SCI) is one of the most devastating types of injuries an individual can suffer. They occur when the spinal cord itself or the vertebrae, ligaments, or discs surrounding it are damaged. The most common causes of SCIs are as follows.
Motor Vehicle Accidents
The number one cause of spinal cord injuries is motor vehicle accidents, and they account for nearly half of all spine injuries each year. That can mean collisions involving cars, trucks, motorcycles, pedestrians, etc. The sudden blow from the crash can cause vertebrae to break or sensitive tissues to become crushed or dislocated. Severe motor vehicle accidents are often a result of distracted drivers, speeding, drunk driving, inclement weather, and reckless driving (e.g., weaving, abrupt lane changes, running red lights, etc.).
Fall accidents are responsible for more than 15 percent of annual SCIs. For example, due to slipping, tripping, or stumbling, falls from buildings, stairs, steps, or ladders. After age 65, individuals are at an increased risk of a spinal cord injury from a slip and fall. The impact of the fall can cause the spine to fracture, dislocate, or may crush or compress one or more of the vertebrae.
Violent acts are the third leading cause of SCIs. For example, the spine can be torn, crushed, or severed due to gunshots, knife wounds, and any other type of assault with a weapon or bare hands.
Any sporting activity or event can result in an SCI—for instance, football, hockey, skiing, snowboarding, cycling, MMA, and rugby increasing the risk of spinal damage. The most common sports-related SCI is cervical spine injuries, affecting the top portion of the spinal cord (the neck). These occur when an excessive load is placed on the head, and the load or force transmits down through the spine.
Alcohol and Diseases
Alcohol factors into about a quarter of all spinal injuries. Cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis, spinal cord inflammation, and other diseases can also cause harm to the spinal cord, resulting in injury.
Types of Spinal Cord Injuries
Spinal cord injuries can be divided into categories based on the section where the trauma occurs. There are four sections of the spine, which, when damaged, can affect different areas of the body:
Cervical Spinal Cord Injury (C1-C8)
The cervical section of the spine sends signals to the hands, arms, shoulders, neck, back of the head, and down the diaphragm. A cervical spinal cord injury commonly results in quadriplegia, which causes paralysis in the arms, legs, and torso, dramatically impacting a victim’s daily life.
Thoracic Spinal Cord Injury (T1-T12)
Thoracic spinal cord injuries affect the upper chest, mid-back, and abdominal muscles. This is because the thoracic region of the spinal cord transmits signals to the back muscles and some parts of the abdomen. Thoracic spinal cord injuries rarely occur compared to other spinal injuries because the rib cage protects most of this area.
Lumbar Spinal Cord Injury (L1-L5)
The lumbar section carries signals to the lower back, abdomen, external genital organs, and buttocks. Injuries affect the hips and legs. Damage to the lumbar region of the spine can lead to a specific type of injury called paraplegia, which is paralysis of the legs.
Sacral Spinal Cord Injury (S1-S5)
The hips, buttocks, pelvic organs, and backs of the thighs are affected and can be paralyzed by sacral spinal cord injuries. Similar to a lumbar spinal injury, victims often suffer a loss of control over bladder and bowel movements and sometimes sexual dysfunction.