The nervous system is the body’s information superhighway. Beginning in the brain and branching out to every inch of the human body—it sends signals out and back again.
Little is understood about the brain and how it is able to send and interpret these signals. But a lot is known about how the spinal cord works and what happens when it becomes damaged.
From a traumatic injury, such as breakage, to a non-traumatic injury, such as a tumor causing compression, many things can cause the spinal cord to malfunction. With so many possible causes, there are also many ways for a physician to treat those injuries.
What is the Nervous System?
The nervous system includes both the central nervous system (CNS), which is made up of the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system, which encompasses nerves outside the brain and spinal cord. It is the body’s major controlling, regulatory, and communicating system and is the center of all mental activity, including thought, learning, and memory.
Along with the endocrine system, the nervous system is responsible for regulating and maintaining homeostasis. Through its receptors, the nervous system keeps us in touch with our environment, both external and internal.
What is the Spinal Cord?
The spinal cord is a column of nerve tissue that runs from the base of the skull down the center of the back and carries messages between the brain and the rest of the body. It is covered by three thin layers of protective tissue called membranes.
The spinal cord and membranes are surrounded by the vertebrae (backbones), also known as the spine.
The three primary functions of the spine are to:
- Protect the spinal cord, nerve roots, and several of the body’s internal organs,
- Provide structural support and balance to maintain an upright posture,
- And enable flexible motion.
What Happens if Different Areas of the Spinal Cord are Injured?
If the spine or spinal cord is injured, the area in which the injury occurred affects the severity of the immediate, ongoing or lasting symptoms and is referred to as the neurological level of the injury. The severity of the injury is often referred to by its completeness and is classified in one of two ways:
- Complete. All feeling and ability to control movement are lost below the spinal cord injury.
- Incomplete. There is some motor or sensory function below the affected area.
What is the Standard of Care for a Spinal Cord Injury?
There are many tests that can be used to diagnose a spinal injury. Initially, a physician will do an extensive examination, including diagnostic imaging, to determine which tests may be needed.
- An X-ray is used by physicians on patients who are suspected of having a spinal cord injury to the bones that make up the spine, after trauma. X-rays can reveal damage to the vertebrae, tumors, fractures, or degenerative changes in the spine.
- A CT is often used to look at abnormalities first seen in an X-ray. This scan uses computers to form a series of cross-sectional images that can define bone, disk, and other problems.
- An MRI is used to look at the spine using a strong magnetic field and radio waves to produce computer-generated images. This diagnostic tool is used to look at the spinal cord and identify herniated disks, blood clots, or other masses that may be compressing the spinal cord.
The key to minimizing damage when a patient is presenting with a spinal cord injury and giving the patient the best possible outcomes lie in the physician acting quickly, carefully, and according to the standard of care.
Anything outside of this is medical malpractice and expert attorneys may be able to help you in determining whether you have a case.
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