Injuries of the Spine and Spinal Cord
Your spine is your backbone. It's actually a long line of 24 bones called vertebrae plus your tailbone (sacrum). Vertebrae start below your skull in your neck and go all the way down to your pelvis. Vertebrae bear most of your body's weight.
There is a hole through each vertebra. The holes line up to make a tunnel called the spinal canal that runs the length of your spine. Your spinal cord lies inside the spinal canal.
Your spinal cord is a bundle of nerves like an electrical cable that carries messages back and forth between your brain and the rest of your body. The spinal cord is very delicate, which is why it's protected inside the spinal canal.
Signals from the brain tell your body what to do, such as move your arms or legs
Signals to the brain carry information from your body such as what you're touching or where it hurts
Most injuries of the spine and spinal cord are caused by things like car crashes, falls, and playing sports
An injury to the spinal area can affect your bones, nerves, or spinal cord
Spine injuries are painful
Spinal cord injuries can make you weak or paralyzed, cause decreased sensation (feeling), and cause problems having sex, urinating, and passing stool
Injuries of the spine and spinal cord sometimes need surgery and physical therapy
If you think you have injured your spine or spinal cord, see a doctor right away.
How the Spine is Organized
Symptoms of injuries to the spine and spinal cord depend on where the injury is and how severe the damage is. Symptoms include:
The parts of your body that are affected depend on where the spinal cord is injured. For example, if the spinal cord is damaged in your lower back, you may lose movement and sensation in your legs but still be able to use your arms. But if the spinal cord is damaged in your neck, both your arms and legs may be affected. If the spinal cord is damaged high in your neck, you may not be able to breathe.
Your weakness and numbness may last a short time or be permanent.
Don't move a person with spinal cord injuries yourself—wait for emergency personnel to arrive.
Emergency personnel immobilize the injured person's neck (keep it from moving) to prevent further damage to the spinal cord and vertebrae. They may:
Doctors may also treat injuries to the spinal cord and vertebrae using: