The Spinal Cord is connected to the brain and is about the diameter of a human finger. From the brain the spinal cord descends down the middle of the back and is surrounded and protected by the bony vertebral column. The spinal cord is surrounded by a clear fluid called Cerebral Spinal Fluid, that acts as a cushion to protect the delicate nerve tissues against damage from banging against the inside of the vertebrae.
The spinal cord itself, consists of millions of nerve fibres which transmit electrical information to and from the limbs, trunk and organs of the body, back to and from the brain. The nerves which exit the spinal cord in the upper section, the neck, control breathing and the arms. The nerves which exit the spinal cord in the mid and lower section of the back, control the trunk and legs, as well as bladder, bowel and sexual function.
The nerves which carry information from the brain to muscles are called Motor Neurones. The nerves which carry information from the body back to the brain are called Sensory Neurones. Sensory Neurones carry information to the brain about skin temperature, touch, pain and joint position.
The brain and spinal cord are referred to as the Central Nervous System, whilst the nerves connecting the spinal cord to the body are referred to as the Peripheral Nervous System.
A spinal cord injury can happen to anyone at any time, is one of the most traumatic events to occur in an individual’s life. It affects family, friends, employers, community and the health care system. An individual can make a positive adjustment to life with a spinal cord injury given the right supports at the right time. On average, it can takes 2 to 3 years to gain sufficient independence following a spinal cord injury. Intensive psycho-social support is a critical component to rehabilitation from the onset of injury, through acute hospitalization, rehabilitation and transition to community living.
Traumatic SCI’s can include Paraplegia, Quadriplegia, Tetraplegia and Hemiplegia. Congenital SCI’s can include Spina Bifida and Osteogenesis Imperfecta (a congenital bone disease sometimes known as Brittle Bone Disease). Other SCI’s can include muscle weakness, Injury, and strains.
A loss of function can occur without the spinal cord being severed. It is cellular damage which leads to a loss in function. A person can break their neck or back, yet not sustain a SCI if the bones around the spinal cord are damaged without impact to the spinal cord itself.