Statistics Regarding Spinal Cord Injuries and Paralysis
Most of us know someone—or at least, know someone who knows someone—who is living with a spinal cord injury or paralysis. In fact, according to christopherreeve.org, nearly one in 50 people in the United States currently live with some level of paralysis—a number that is almost 40 percent higher than prior estimates. It is important to note that a spinal cord injury may not result in paralysis and that paralysis is not always the result of a spinal cord injury. The leading cause of paralysis is stroke, followed by spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis, while almost half of all those with a spinal cord injury received the injury from an auto accident.
Finding (or keeping) employment can be very difficult for those with a spinal cord injury or paralysis; only 15.5 percent of those with some level of paralysis are employed, versus more than 64 percent of those without a disability. Equally dismaying is the fact that those living with a spinal cord injury or paralysis are often unable to afford a level of health insurance that would adequately cover the complications associated with these conditions. This forces many of those with a spinal cord injury or paralysis to rely on friends and family to serve as primary caregivers.
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The Prevalence of Spinal Cord Injuries Associated with Car Accidents
As noted above, almost half of all spinal cord injuries are the result of an auto accident. (Falls, sports accidents, and acts of violence comprise much of the other half). According to an NCBI journal article, the chance of sustaining serious spinal cord injuries in a car accident is high, whether due to the low level of car manufacturing standards and vehicle safety measures, poorly designed roads, or an increase in driver inattention.
An auto accident can cause a sudden blow to the spinal cord (or surrounding ligaments, discs, and vertebrae), causing vertebrae to break, or tissues to become dislocated or crushed. Some spinal cord injuries sustained in an auto accident can bleed, and when the injury spreads down the spinal cord, damage to the nervous system can cause interference to motor functions. Even when the spinal cord is not severed in an auto accident, difficulty functioning can result. The overall impact of an auto accident that results in a spinal cord injury will depend on the exact location of the spinal cord injury, the intensity of the accident, and the overall health of the victim.
Understanding Spinal Cord Injuries and Paralysis
The spinal cord is a spongy mass of cylindrical nervous tissues, surrounded by vertebrae. Any type of damage from trauma or pressure from an accident can interfere with the way the spinal cord normally works. A spinal cord injury can appear relatively minor, then may, over time, place pressure on an already weakened vertebra, even causing bone parts to pierce or tear the spinal cord, causing significant damage. A herniated disc can also lead to pressure being placed on the spinal cord. In particularly traumatic accidents, the spinal cord can be severed; the area of paralysis from a severed spinal cord will depend on the location of the trauma. Depending on the extent of the damage, a person with a spinal cord injury could suffer the following:
- Loss of feeling in the extremities
- Loss of feeling and paralysis from the waist down (paraplegia)
- Loss of feeling and paralysis from the neck down (quadriplegia)
- Muscle spasms
- Chronic pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty coughing
- Loss of bowel and bladder control
- Muscle weakness
- Numbness or tingling
- An inability to feel heat or cold
- An inability to feel a touch
- Loss of sensation or altered sensations
- Exaggerated reflex activities
- Changes in sexual function and fertility
The spinal cord is a complex organ that is responsible for relaying sensory information to and from the brain and body. Because it is so complex, damage to the spinal cord can be difficult to repair, resulting in permanent damage to many of those who suffer spinal cord injuries.
How a Doctor Can Help Those with Spinal Cord Injuries
If a doctor suspects a spinal cord injury, he or she may test for sensory function and movement, ask questions regarding the accident, and run diagnostic tests. These tests could include x-rays, CT scans, or an MRI. An MRI is helpful in identifying a mass, a herniated disk, or even a blood clot, any of which could potentially compress the spinal cord. A CT scan provides a better look at an abnormality seen on an x-ray.
After enough time has passed since the accident (giving the swelling time to subside), the doctor will conduct a more thorough exam which is meant to determine the overall level of injury to the spinal cord. The patient will be tested to determine whether a light touch can be sensed, as well as to measure muscle strength. There is no way to reverse spinal cord damage, however, researchers are working on new treatments for spinal cord damage which include medications that can promote nerve cell regeneration, electrical stimulation devices, robotic gait training, and prostheses. There are also certain emergency medical actions that can, in some cases, be taken to reduce the level of long-term damage to the spinal cord, including:
- Immediately immobilizing the spine
- Surgery to stabilize the spine and remove bone fragments
- Significantly lowering body temperature for 24-48 hours to help prevent damaging inflammation
Most of those with spinal cord injuries will begin rehabilitation while in the early stages of recovery.
How an Experienced Denver Spinal Cord Injury Attorney Can Help
At the Law Offices of Dianne Sawaya, we fully understand just how serious and life-altering spinal cord injuries can be. We know that a spinal cord injury can prevent you from returning to your job—for weeks, months, or even forever. You may need assistive devices to help you get through your day-to-day life, not to mention months or years of rehabilitative therapies and medical procedures. We have an extensive network of medical authorities and specialists, ready to help you through this difficult time. Attorney Dianne Sawaya and her team will work hard to hold the person at fault for your accident responsible while helping you regain your function and your dignity. Contact the Law Offices of Dianne Sawaya today.