May 30, 2017

Spinal Cord Injury Recovery

Spinal Cord Injury:  Understanding Recovery and Prognosis

understanding recovery and prognosis of spinal cod injuryWhen spinal cord injuries occur, the diagnosis is made to identify the level of vertebrae that sustained the damage.  Depending on the location of the injury (and the number of vertebra affected) the long term prognosis for recovery can vary.  In some cases partial restoration of pre-injury physical functioning is possible while other types of spinal cord injuries can mean minimal improvement and little resolution of symptoms.

The spine is broken into different segments or levels which have unique neurological functions.  Portions of your spinal cord are linked to mobility such as walking, use of arms and other fine motor skills in other areas of the body.   When a Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) occurs it is important to identify the level on the segment that corresponds with the location of the sustained injury.  It helps physicians to determine and sometimes even predict which specific functions will be impacted.

Spinal Cord Vertebrae Segmental Levels

The Vertebral Segmental Levels are at the top of the spinal cord and include:

  • Seven (7) cervical neck vertebrae (neck)
  • Twelve (12) thoracic vertebrae (chest)

When a physician notes that a spinal cord injury has occurred at the “C” level, he or she is indicating that it falls within the Cervical segment.  A diagnosis for instance of an injury that is located at the “C2” level would be understood as the top segment of the spinal cord on the second vertebrae.   The sole purpose for mapping the injury in this method is an attempt to understand the long term effects for the patient.  If physicians can develop a preliminary estimate on the level of injury and possible impairment, then a prognosis and treatment recommendations can be made.

Some of the segments are functional and responsible for physiological impairment while others are responsible for emotional responses and sensory cognition.   There are two types of general classifications when it comes to Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) which is “complete” versus “incomplete’ according to the American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA).

There are four spinal cord segments that are used to map in the event of an injury.

  1. Cervical  (C1-C7)
  2. Thoracic (T1-T12)
  3. Lumbar (L1-L5)
  4. Sacral  (S1-S5)

Ten muscle groups are associated with the Cervical and Lumbosacral systems alone.   The spinal cord segments are responsible for most of our motor functioning which includes finger and hand dexterity, muscle flexion, mobility as well as grip, push/pull and other physical activities.  Leg and foot muscles are impacted by the Lumbar segment.

Remember that when doctors are assigning these measurements to your level of injury it is merely a way to identify and then to anticipate the amount of rehabilitation that may be required.  And even when the injury is defined by physicians it is really just an estimate.  No two people are the same and the amount of therapy and supports required is impossible to predict.

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