The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves and other tissue which extends from the brain’s base at the top of the neck down the length of the back. It’s protected by the bones (or vertebrae) that make up the spine, and by spinal fluid.
The brain and spinal cord control our bodily functions. The spinal cord is responsible for communicating two-way messages to and from the brain to all parts of the body including the muscles, organs and skin. We are able to feel pain and move our arms or legs because of these messages or impulses.
If the spinal cord is damaged through illness or injury, some of the messages or impulses may be ‘interrupted’. This can lead to partial or total loss of feeling or movement in parts of your body, including your limbs and your internal organs. In the worst case scenario, this can lead to a life changing loss of the use of both legs and/or arms causing paraplegia, tetraplegia or quadriplegia.
Most injuries cause loss of movement and feeling in the parts of the body below the level/site of the injury. For example, damage or breaking the spinal cord close to the neck will cause paralysis in a larger part of the body than damage to the spinal cord lower down the back.
A serious spinal injury can result in the injured person becoming reliant on a wheelchair to move around, they can be in considerable daily pain, suffer fatigue, and have bladder and bowel control issues. Sexual function may also be affected. Independent living may not be possible and full-time care and support required.
As well as the physical impact of a spinal cord injury, there are also emotional and psychological effects. The accident and the life changing aftermath can be very traumatic for the person concerned and their family.
There are an estimated 50,000 people in the UK living with a spinal cord injury and each year approximately 2,500 people are newly injured.