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13 FAQ About Spinal Cord Injuries

By Matt Lalande in Spinal Cord Injuries on August 28, 2020

13 FAQ About Spinal Cord Injuries

A traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) has devastating consequences for the physical, social and vocational well-being of accident victims. It is an extremely complex condition that can affect nearly every aspect of your life—from how you get around and do routine tasks to how you interact with your family and friends.  To understand the effects of a spinal cord injury, you first need to understand the spinal cord’s basic anatomy, or its structure. Your spinal cord emerges from the base of the skull and ends at the lower part of the back. The peripheral nerves (also called spinal nerves) are paired and travel to various parts of the body. There are 31 pairs of spinal nerves, which are numbered according to sections of the spinal column.  The sections of the spine are:

The cervical or neck section (C1 to C8), which includes 8 nerves and 7 vertebrae in the neck area.  The thoracic or chest section (T1 to T12), which includes 12 nerves and 12 vertebrae in the chest and abdomen (belly) area.  The lumbar or low back sectionl (L1 to L5), which includes 5 nerves and 5 vertebrae in the lower back.

The spinal cord ends at the L2 level. Beyond this point, a collection of many nerves form the cauda equina, or “horse’s tail,” which is just what the bundle of nerves looks like. The sacral section (S1 to S5) includes the lowest nerves exiting the spinal cord in the pelvic area (area of the buttocks). The sacrum is actually several vertebral bones that are fused, or attached, to form one large bone with 5 nerves emerging from holes in each side of the bone.

SCI’s can happen from from damage to the spinal cord itsels, or to the vertebral bones, ligaments or disks of the spinal column.  The spinal cord is typically injured from trauma or an accident to the spinal cord area which may stem from a sudden, traumatic blow to your spine that fractures, dislocates, crushes or compresses one or more of your vertebrae. In our experience, traumatic spinal cord injuries often occur because  serious car accidents, motorcycle accidents, trucking accidents, pedestrian accidents, falls, dives, sports injury and gunshot wounds.

Our Hamilton spinal cord injury lawyers have been working with spinal cord injury victims since 2003. Whether you are trying to support a loved one who is adjusting to this devastating time, or are trying to cope with your own recovery, there are some things you should know about spinal cord injuries that could help you understand your situation.  The following are 12 things that are…good to know:

1. Spinal Cord Injuries happen for non-traumatic and traumatic reasons

When something like a non-traumatic disease causes a spinal cord injury, it is refered to this as myelopathy (“myelo” means spinal cord and “pathy” means disease). Some diseases that cause SCI include: Multiple sclerosis, Blood vessel disorders leading to bleeding around the spinal cord or a lack of blood supply to the spinal cord, Tumors (benign or cancerous) Infections, Developmental disorders, or Arthritis.

Our Hamilton spinal cord injury lawyers obviously tend to know more about traumatic spinal cord injuries because it is what we practice.  A traumatic spinal cord injury commonly results from a sudden, traumatic impact on the spine that fractures or dislocates vertebrae. It is caused displaced vertebral bone fragments, displaced disc material, disrupted ligaments, serious bruising or injuries that cause tearing into the spinal cord tissue It is caused by damage to the spinal cord from trauma or an accident such as a sports injury, car, truck, or motorcycle accident, a slip and fall, an assault or by a stabbing or gunshot wound.

According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistics Center, approximately 38% of traumatic spinal cord injuries occur due to car accidents, while another 30% are caused by falls. While these are the leading causes of spinal cord injury, any occasion when the spine is exposed to a forceful and sudden impact could be a risk factor. Some examples may include sports, boating accidents, workplace injuries.

2. Not All Spinal Cord Injuries Produce Symptoms Immediately

While a blunt force to the spinal cord often results in a direct catastrophic spinal cord injury, sometimes these injuries may begin to present symptoms that build in severity over time. For example, nerve damage or a neck injury after an accident may begin to build and sever the connection through the spine, which can result in ongoing loss of mobility, bladder or bowel function, or paralysis.

3. Spinal Cord Injuries Are Brutally Expensive

It is hard to determine the true cost of a spinal cord injury given the mental, emotional, and physical turmoil the victim may endure. However, many individuals may not be aware that a spinal cord injury can be expensive for the Ontario health care system and the individual. Victims often face additional financial burdens such as loss of income, therapy and recovery, home or vehicle modifications, moving expenses, and other costs associated with ongoing care.  Hamilton Spinal Cord Injury Lawyer Matt Lalande says that in his experience, life care plans can easily range from $5,000,000 to $10,000,000.00 in lifetime expenses, depending on the age of the victim and level of lesion.

4. The Location of  Lesion Determines the Extent of Paralysis

There are many levels of spinal cord injury, and the victim’s outcome and ability to fully recover will depend on the area of the spinal cord that has suffered the impact. The clinical outcomes and extent of paralysis depends on the severity and location of the victim’s lesion and can include partial or complete loss of sensory and/or motor function below the level of injury. Injuries that occur higher on the spinal cord, such as thoracic (middle back and torso) and cervical spine (neck) injuries, generally have a more traumatic impact and can lead to more catastrophic consequences.  The higher on the spinal cord an injury occurs, the greater the effect on movement, sensation, and other body functions. Tetraplegia refers to an injury to the cervical (neck) section of the spinal cord. It can involve either partial or complete loss of movement and/or feeling in the head, neck, shoulders, upper chest, arms, and legs. Paraplegia refers to an injury in the thoracic, lumbar, or sacral sections of the spinal cord. It can involve either partial or complete loss of movement or feeling in the chest, stomach, hips, legs, and feet.

5. There Are Complete and Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries

Generally, a spinal cord injury is classified among two types: complete or incomplete spinal cord injury. Complete spinal cord injury is the more severe of the two, and occurs when the spinal cord has been completely severed. It can lead to a complete loss of mobility and function or paralysis below the level of injury.  A complete injury is one that results in no voluntary movement and no measurable feeling below the level of injury. An important point is the term “voluntary” movement or movement that you are able to start, stop and completely control. Often after a spinal cord injury you will experience spasms, or parts of your body moving or “jumping” without your controlling this movement. This is called “involuntary” movement. Similarly, “feeling” is defined as some sensation found by your doctor during neurologic testing. Many people have involuntary movements or experience “feelings” in their legs or other body parts, yet the injury is still called “complete.”

Incomplete spinal cord injury occurs when some nerve streams can still get through the spinal cord and it has not been completely severed. Individuals with incomplete spinal cord injury may still attain some level of function or mobility below the level of injury. An incomplete injury is one in which there is some measurable feeling and/or voluntary movement below the level of the injury. A doctor or health care professional who specializes in treating people with SCI can help you determine if your injury is complete or incomplete.

6. Spinal Cord Injury Victims can Have Ongoing Care Considerations and Health Concerns

Traumatic spinal cord injury can no doubt cause longlasting dysfunction in person’s many organ systems, and together with permanent change of function, can lead to a higher morbidity together with a lower quality of life. Knowledge of possible complications during the acute phase is important because they may be life-threatening and may lead to prolonged rehabilitation.  If you or a loved one has suffered from a spinal cord injury, there are some risk factors and health concerns that follow throughout the recovery process and usually in the long-term future. These include

  • skin management concerns;
  • risk of pressure ulcers;
  • cardiovascular issues;
  • respiratory and lung conditions;
  • immunocompromisation;
  • lower blood circulation;
  • thermoregulatory issues;
  • disturbances of the urinary and gastrointestinal systems among many others.

7. Paralysis Comes in Many Forms

Loss of mobility is a frequent occurrence with a catastrophic spinal cord injury, as the spinal cord is responsible for sending messages from the brain through the nerve system to the rest of the body. There are different types of paralysis that a victim may experience depending on the severity of the damage. Quadriplegia and tetraplegia occur when all of the limbs become paralyzed, including the arms, legs, torso, and pelvic area. Paraplegia occurs when the lower body is paralyzed, usually from the trunk down and into the legs, pelvic region, and feet.

8. Life May be Different Now, But You Can Get Back to Many of Your Regular Activities

Many spinal cord injury victims become vulnerable to depression and anxiety because of the sudden and drastic shift in their quality of life. This is completely natural and understandable given the pain and suffering that comes with this severe injury. However, it is important to remember that all hope is not lost. Once you have had time to undergo recovery and rehabilitation, there are many ways to continue to enjoy the activities you once did. It may take some adjustment, but in time you can learn to drive again, recover your sexuality, and become more independent.

9. If Someone Caused their Injuries – they Can be Liable for your Future Lifetime Costs of Care

Spinal cord injury is a drastic and life-changing injury, and if your pain and suffering was caused by someone else’s negligence, you are well within your legal rights to retain a Hamilton spinal cord injury lawyer and hold that party accountable for their actions. Suing the negligent party may not be able to get your mobility back or stop the physical pain, but it can certainly help you find the financial support and justice you need to continue your ongoing recovery and give you some peace of mind with your expenses during this time.

10. Individual Defendants do not pay your compensation, their insurance company does.

When you sue an individual for compensation, it is that individual’s insurance company will pay the settlement or verdict.  In the case of car crashes in Ontario, it is the third-party liability policy of the at-fault driver which will pay the damages.  Third party insurance is an insurance policy that is purchased by an insured person (the 1st party) from an insurance company (the 2nd party) that insures against the claims or damgaes of a injury victim (the 3rd party). Similarly, if you are injured on a commercial or residential property, the property insurance will pay your compensation if they are found liable.

11.  Yes, Intimacy and Sexual Treatement Still Exists after a Spinal Cord Injury

There is no doubt that self-confidence can be an issue to a spinal cord injury vicim – and it may also be difficult to have a stable relationship.  You may have some degree of paralysis, you most likely use a wheelchair and may also have problems with your bladder and bowel control. Many male spinal cord injury victims can suffer from erectile problems, or keeping an erection firm enough to have sexual intercourse. Neural pathway pathways that control ejaculation are disrupted and such it may be more difficult to achieve. Unfortunately there is no medical treatment which can improve the ability to ejaculate – but there is medical treatment to assist with getting and maintaining erections, such as sexual tablets, injections, intra-urethral drugs, vacum pump and penis implants which can be surgically placed.   For females, arousal and lubrication is a major problem following a spinal cord injury.  Contraception is a necessity as menstruation does not stop as a reult of a spinal cord injury.

12.  Life Expectancy has Improved for Those with a Spinal Cord Injury

Decades ago, before the development of specialized centers to treat people with SCI, the life expectancy of someone with an SCI was only a few years. In the past, if you were to have an SCI, you would have been much more likely to die within the first year after injury. If you did survive, you were more likely to die within the first several years because of infections such as pneumonia or bladder/kidney infection. Today, with improved medical care, people with SCI are living much longer lives and successfully treating spinal cord injury complications.

13. Most Spinal Cord Injuries do not Actually Tear the Spinal Cord

A 2019 article from the the Journal “Frontiers in Neurology” indicated that most trauma that causes an SCI does not sever the spinal cord. Instead, the mechanism of injury typically results in compression of the cord by bone fractures and bone dislocation, laceration or the spinal cord tissue, or bone fragments that tear into the spinal cord tissue.

A Hamilton Spinal Cord Injury Lawyer Can Help You in More Ways Than Just a Court Settlement

Since 2003, Matt Lalande has helping spinal cord injury victims and their families in Hamilton and across Ontario recover the compensation they deserve to help them manage a proper and healthy life care plan. Our spinal cord injury lawyers have seen firsthand the devastating impact a spinal cord injury can be on the victim as well as their family, and while we cannot take away the pain you’re suffering, we can provide you with the right support to get your life back on track. This includes assisting with services during your recovery, connecting you with the best specialists and life planners in Ontario, and more.

Book a free consultation with our Hamilton spinal cord injury lawyers by calling nationwide at 1-844-LALANDE or local in the GTA/Hamilton Region at 905-333-8888 and we will be more than happy to meet with you to discuss the options available to you. We can come to you, no matter where you are in Canada, if you are unable to travel, and all consultations are completely confidential with no obligation to retain our services. Remember if we decide to work together, we never ask our clients for money upfront.



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