What Is the Spinal Cord?
Identifying Its Critical Functions
The spinal cord runs through the back, transmitting messages from the brain to the rest of the body. The soft, jelly-like cord is protected by the spinal column, made up of 33 bones called vertebrae. The bones are stacked one on top of the other, with holes in the center of each, and the spinal cord runs through the channel created by the holes in the stacked bones.
The vertebrae are organized into sections, named and numbered from top to bottom by location along the backbone:
- Cervical vertebrae (1-7) located in the neck
- Thoracic vertebrae (1-12) in the upper back (attached to the ribcage)
- Lumbar vertebrae (1-5) in the lower back
- Sacral vertebrae (1-5) in the hip area
- Coccygeal vertebrae (1-4 fused) in the tailbone
Inside the Vertebrae
Between the vertebrae are discs of semi-rigid cartilage, and between the discs are narrow passages through which the spinal nerves exit to the rest of the body. These are places where the spinal cord is particularly vulnerable to injury. The spinal cord is also organized into segments; each segment marks locations where spinal nerves emerge from the cord:
- Cervical spinal nerves (C1 to C8) control signals to the back of the head, the neck and shoulders, the arms and hands, and the diaphragm.
- Thoracic spinal nerves (T1 to T12) control signals to the chest muscles, certain back muscles, and portions of the abdomen.
- Lumbar spinal nerves (L1 to L5) control signals to the lower parts of the abdomen and the back, the buttocks, some parts of the external genital organs, and parts of the leg.
- Sacral spinal nerves (S1 to S5) control signals to the thighs and lower parts of the legs, the feet, most of the external genital organs, and the area around the anus.
- The single coccygeal nerve carries sensory information from the skin of the lower back.
Diagnosing a Spinal Cord Injury
Spinal cord injuries are not always easy to diagnose and, unfortunately, delayed or missed diagnoses may lead to more severe injuries. In order to diagnose a spinal cord injury, doctors must conduct careful patient inspections, testing for sensory function and movement, and asking some questions about how the accident occurred. If an injured person complains of neck pain, isn't fully conscious or shows signs of weakness or other symptoms of neurological injury, emergency diagnostic tests should be conducted.
These tests may include:
- X-rays: These tests are usually performed on people who are suspected of having incurred a spinal cord injury as the result of a trauma. X-rays can reveal vertebral problems, tumors, fractures, or degenerative changes in the spine.
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan: A CT scan usually comes after an X-ray, to provide a better look at noted abnormalities. This scan uses computers to form a series of cross-sectional images that can define bone, disk, and other problems.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRIs use strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce computer-generated images, and are useful for examining the spinal cord and compressions of the spinal cord.
In addition to initial diagnostic exams, neurological exams should be conducted after the accident, when some of the swelling has had a chance to subside. These tests will help determine the level and completeness of your injury, and usually testing your muscle strength and your ability to sense light touch and pinpricks.
Seeking Compensation for Wrongful Spinal Cord Injury
If diagnosed with a spinal cord injury, you could be facing extensive medical bills related to tests and treatment. Furthermore, you are likely debilitated to the point that you cannot work, meaning that the hospital bills will continue to be more and more difficult to pay.
If the incident causing this spinal cord injury was not your fault, you may be eligible for receiving financial compensation not just for your immediate bills but also for your future care. We at Arnold & Itkin want to help you identify the liable party and begin fighting for the retribution you deserve.
Call our offices today at (888) 493-1629 to schedule a free consultation with our award-winning and record-setting personal injury attorneys.