Spinal Cord Injury

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.

Anatomy of the spinal cord

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:

Spinal column with vertebrae

•   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.

Types of spinal cord injuries

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)

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
    the injury

Spinal cord injury statistics

•   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.