The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that extends from the base of your brain down to your lower back. These nerves are responsible for the conduction of signals from your brain to the rest of your body to help in its various functions. It is protected by a bony canal formed by vertebrae arranged one above the other as any injury to these nerves can disrupt normal functions. Spinal cord injuries may occur due to:
- Direct trauma to the spinal cord caused by motor vehicle accidents, falls, assault (gunshot and knife wounds) or during sports or recreational activities
- Diseases in the surrounding tissues such as arthritis, osteoporosis, bone fracture or dislocation, inflammation of spinal cord and cancer, which can compress the nerve fibers
Damage to the nerves can be complete, where there is a complete loss of sensation and function (paralysis) in the regions supplied by the nerves below the level of injury, or incomplete, where there is limited sensation and movement in the levels below the injury. Depending on the region and extent of injury, symptoms can be seen immediately or develop gradually, and may include loss of sensation, loss of movement, spasm and pain to the region supplied by the injured nerve, loss of bowel or bladder control, and changes in sexual function. The emergency signs may include difficulty in balance, weakness, numbness or paralysis and difficulty with breathing.