Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) is damage to the spinal cord that results in a loss of function such as mobility or feeling. Spinal cord injuries are often caused by accidents. Many times, these injuries result from motor vehicle accidents. They can also be caused by a variety of other accidents, like falls, sports-related accidents, boating mishaps, accidental shootings, and ATV, snowmobile, and bicycle accidents.
The spinal cord is the largest nerve in the body. It is approximately 18 inches long and runs from the base of the brain, down the middle of the back, to the waist. A spinal cord injury is any injury of the nerve elements within the spinal cord. Most spinal cord injuries result from trauma to the vertebral column. This can affect the spinal cord’s ability to send and receive messages from the brain to the parts of the body that control sensory, motor, and autonomic functions. The effect on the body depends on the location and severity of the spinal cord injury.
A person can “break their back or neck” yet not sustain a spinal cord injury if only the bones around the spinal cord (the vertebrae) are damaged, but the spinal cord is not affected. In these situations, the individual may not experience paralysis after the bones are stabilized. The spinal cord does not have to be severed in order for a loss of functioning to occur. In fact, in most people with SCI, the spinal cord is intact, but the damage to it results in loss of functioning. SCI is very different from other back injuries such as ruptured disks, or pinched nerves.