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Does a spinal cord injury always cause paralysis?

On Behalf of | Oct 1, 2023 | Injuries |

According to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, there are 18,000 new spinal cord injuries each year in the United States. When it comes to such injuries, there is a common misunderstanding about how they impact the body.

Not all spinal cord injuries result in paralysis. While these injuries can have severe consequences, the outcomes can vary widely based on the type, location and severity.

How the spinal cord works

To appreciate the variability of spinal cord injuries, you must understand the role of the spinal cord in the body. The spinal cord serves as the communication highway between the brain and the rest of the body. It is responsible for transmitting messages that control your movements, sensations and bodily functions. The type of injury to the spinal cord dictates how it impacts your body.

Types of spinal cord injuries

Spinal cord injuries are either complete or incomplete. A complete injury means the damage to the spinal cord results in no signals passing through the injury site. This often results in paralysis and the loss of sensation below the injury level. An incomplete injury means some degree of communication between the brain and the body remains. The severity can vary widely, and individuals with incomplete injuries may retain some motor function and sensation below the injury site.

Location matters

The location of the spinal cord injury is an important factor in determining its effects. The spinal cord has different segments, each responsible for specific functions. Injuries higher up, such as in the cervical region, are more likely to result in severe paralysis and affect a larger portion of the body. In contrast, injuries lower down may lead to more limited or localized impairments.

Severity and rehabilitation efforts

The extent of the injury’s impact can also depend on the severity of the damage. Advances in medical care and rehabilitation have made a significant difference in outcomes. Intensive rehabilitation programs, assistive devices and adaptive technologies can help improve mobility and independence for some.

It is essential to recognize that spinal cord injuries are highly individualized, and no two cases are exactly alike. While some individuals may experience complete paralysis, others may regain partial function and mobility with time and specialized care.

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