Spinal Cord Injuries: Types & Causes

The spinal cord is a vital part of our nervous system, acting as the main highway for messages traveling between the brain and the rest of the body. When this pathway is disrupted by damage, it can lead to a spinal cord injury (SCI).

What Is a Spinal Cord Injury?

Just as the name suggests, an SCI is damage to the spinal cord, the bundle of nerves that extends down the center of your spine. This damage can affect:

  • movement,
  • sensation, and
  • even some automatic functions in the body.

The Different Levels of Spinal Cord Injury

The spinal cord is divided into four regions: sacral, cervical, lumbar, and thoracic. Each region controls different parts of the body.

The cervical spine is located in the neck and contains eight vertebrae. It controls the movement of the head, neck, shoulders, and arms. Injuries to the cervical spine can be very serious and can lead to paralysis and difficulty breathing.

The thoracic spine is located in the middle back and contains twelve vertebrae. It controls the muscles of the chest, abdomen, and back. It also carries sensory information from the skin of the chest and abdomen. Injuries to the thoracic spine can cause pain, difficulty breathing, and problems with digestion.

The lumbar spine is located in the lower back and contains five vertebrae. It controls the muscles of the legs, hips, and lower abdomen. It also carries sensory information from the skin of the legs and feet. Injuries to the lumbar spine can cause pain, weakness, and paralysis in the legs.

The sacral spine is located at the base of the spine and is fused together to form the sacrum. It controls the muscles of the bowel and bladder as well as the legs to a lesser extent. It also carries sensory information from the skin of the buttocks and genitals. Injuries to the sacral spine can cause paralysis of the legs and bowels and sexual dysfunction.

Types of Spinal Cord Injuries

There are two main classifications for spinal cord injuries:

  • Complete. A complete SCI means that all signals below the injury site are disrupted. Individuals with complete injuries will experience complete paralysis and loss of sensation in the areas below the injury.
  • Incomplete. An incomplete SCI indicates that some communication pathways remain intact. The amount of remaining function varies depending on the specific nerves affected. People with incomplete SCIs may have some degree of movement, sensation, or both below the injury level.

Negligence-Related Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries

A person can suffer a spinal cord injury in the following types of accidents:

  • Medical malpractice. Spinal cord injuries caused by medical malpractice can arise from various situations, such as:
    • Misdiagnosis of a condition can be critical. A pinched nerve or spinal tumor left undiagnosed can worsen, compressing the spinal cord and leading to permanent damage.
    • Mistakes during medical procedures are another concern. Surgeons may accidentally sever or nick the spinal cord during surgery, or anesthesiologists might inject medication in the wrong location, causing nerve damage. These are just a few examples, and even seemingly minor errors can have life-altering consequences.
  • Motor vehicle accidents. The delicate spinal cord can be damaged in several ways during a car, motorcycle, bus, or pedestrian accident. For instance, the force of a crash can cause the body to be thrown violently. This rapid movement can hyperextend the neck or twist the spine, stressing the vertebrae and discs beyond their limits. This can result in fractures, dislocations, or herniated discs, all of which can compress or damage the spinal cord. In other cases, depending on the severity of the accident and the type of vehicle, metal or other objects can pierce the spine and directly injure the spinal cord. This is a more common risk for motorcyclists and pedestrians who are less protected in a crash. Or, in a head-on collision or rollover accident, the spine can be crushed between objects or the weight of the vehicle. This compression fractures vertebrae and damages the spinal cord within the canal.
  • Violence. Acts of violence, unfortunately, are a significant contributor to spinal cord injuries. If you were assaulted while on someone else’s property, you may be able to pursue a negligent security claim. For instance, let’s say you are at a gas station and are assaulted with a knife and robbed. The lot did not have proper lighting, and the security cameras weren’t working— both of these failures (by the gas station owners) allow you to pursue a claim. It is important to note that different acts of violence can lead to spinal cord injuries:
    • Gunshot wounds. Bullets traveling at high speeds can sever or damage the spinal cord directly, resulting in paralysis or loss of sensation below the injury site.
    • Knife wounds. Similar to gunshots, stabbings to the back or neck can pierce the spinal cord or sever nerve fibers, leading to partial or complete paralysis.
    • Blunt force trauma. Severe beatings or blows to the back can cause fractures in the vertebrae. These fractured bones can then compress or damage the spinal cord.
  • Athletic events. Athletes are not unfamiliar with injuries like sprains, cuts, bruises, and bone breaks. Unfortunately, catastrophic injuries like spinal cord injuries can also occur while playing sports. There are a few ways this could happen:
    • Improper training or supervision. If a coach or trainer fails to properly instruct an athlete on a safe technique or pushes them beyond their limits, it can increase the risk of a dangerous fall or collision that could damage the spine.
    • Faulty equipment. In some sports, specific equipment is used to protect athletes from serious injuries. If this equipment is malfunctioning, worn out, or improperly fitted, it may not provide adequate protection during a fall or impact.
    • Unsafe venue conditions. The condition of the playing field or track can also play a role. Uneven surfaces, inadequate padding, or obstacles on the field can all contribute to falls or collisions that could result in spinal cord injuries.
  • Falls. Negligent property conditions can lead to slip-and-fall accidents. The impact from a fall can fracture or dislocate vertebrae, putting pressure on the spinal cord. This pressure can damage or sever the delicate nerve fibers, leading to partial or complete loss of function depending on the location and severity of the injury. Falls that land on the head or back are particularly risky for the spine.

Suffered a Spinal Cord Injury? Contact Us!

At JD Haas & Associates PLLC, our attorneys have decades of collective experience and have recovered millions of dollars in damages for our clients. We represent clients in catastrophic injury claims, including spinal cord injury cases, and you can trust our team to meticulously prepare for negotiations or trial.

Call (952) 234-2925 to discuss your case with a member of our firm.