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The spinal cord serves not just one critical function, but several. A compact but extremely powerful package of nerves, it works with the brain to transmit important messages that are responsible for functions in every area of the body.
Because the spinal cord plays such an essential role, any injury has the potential for widespread and serious damage. Spinal cord injuries (SCIs) can occur as:
• bruises (called contusions)
• partial tears
• complete tears (called a transection)
To understand how and why spinal cord injuries have different effects on different parts of the body, it’s helpful to understand the anatomy of the surrounding area. The spinal cord is divided into sections that correspond with the neighboring bones of the spine:
• cervical (neck area)
• thoracic (mid-back)
• lumbar (lower back)
• sacrum (base of the spine)
Typically, the higher the location of the injury, the more significant the resulting damage. Serious SCIs are categorized as either paraplegic—resulting in a loss of sensation and function in the lower half of the body—or quadriplegic/tetraplegic, resulting in a loss of feeling and movement from the chest down, including both arms and both legs.
In addition, SCIs can be:
• incomplete, causing only a partial loss of feeling and movement below the level
of the injury
• complete, causing a complete loss of sensation and function below the level of
Here are some of the statistics on spinal cord injuries:
• Children account for only 5 percent of all individuals who sustain spinal cord injuries.
• 60 to 75 percent of all SCI occur in the neck area.
• 20 percent of all SCI affect the chest or upper back.
• The remaining 5 to 20 percent involve the spinal cord in the lower back.
While treatment options depend on the specifics and severity of the particular injury, you can rest assured that Boston Children’s Hospital has the world-renowned expertise and state-of-the-art tools to give you, your child and your family the care you need.
How Boston Children’s Hospital approaches spinal cord injuries
Learning that your child has a spinal cord injury is a frightening and potentially life-changing moment for any parent. Boston Children’s Hospital is here to work with you, your child and your family through every moment of your journey.
Boston Children’s Spinal Program is acclaimed both nationally and internationally for our excellence in diagnosing, treating and managing spinal cord injuries in children of all ages. In fact, our program:
• centers on close collaboration between our experts in neurosurgery and orthopedics
• treats more than 6,000 children on an outpatient basis every year
• performs more than 300 spinal surgeries annually
• coordinates the full spectrum of support services for children with SCIs, including:
- physical therapy
- occupational therapy
- incontinence support
- psychological support and counseling
Working together, our clinicians will develop a customized treatment plan that meets your child's medical, emotional and practical needs—and involves you and your family at every step of the way.
Spinal cord injury: Reviewed by Mark R. Proctor, MD
© Boston Children’s Hospital; posted in 2011
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