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Spinal Cord Injuries: What You Need to Know

Without a doubt, a spinal cord injury is one of the most devastating things that can happen to a person. The repercussions of a spinal cord injury are far-reaching and life-altering. Even minor injuries can have a major negative impact, and navigating the healthcare and legal systems can be daunting.

Arming yourself with information is the most effective way to regain control over your life. By learning everything you can about your injury and your rights, you can become fully engaged in both your physical recovery and the legal process. Here is information that will help you understand your situation.

What is the spinal cord and why is it so important?

The spinal cord is a thick bundle of nerves that runs from the base of the brainstem to the lumbar region of the spine. It acts as an information superhighway for your body. Messages are sent along the spinal cord to all areas of the body, allowing it to perform a myriad of tasks every day.

The spinal cord is divided into four sections:

  • Cervical Spine: C1 – C8
  • Thoracic Spine: T1 – T12
  • Lumbar Spine: L1 – L5
  • Sacral Spine: S1 – S5

Any damage to your spine impacts your ability to function optimally. Traumatic spinal injuries can result in anything from irritating tingling sensations to quadriplegia.

How do spinal cord injuries affect your health?

If the spinal cord is the body’s information superhighway, then an injury would be like shutting down the road; the signals from the rest of the body to the brain are impeded. This can limit strength, mobility, and sensation below the trauma site. For example, if it occurs higher in the cervical spine, you could be paralyzed from the neck down. In the case of severe spinal cord trauma, the result is quadriplegia (paralysis in all four limbs). Damage further down the spine can cause lower limb paralysis, lack of bowel or bladder control, and/or loss of lower body sensation.

Needless to say, these injuries are considered severe and require months or years of therapy to regain movement and adapt to chronic limitation or pain. This is why understanding both your injury and your legal rights is imperative for your long-term recovery.

Types of spinal cord injuries

There are two categories for spinal cord injuries:

Traumatic: The result of an event like a car crash, sports accident, or a serious fall. Non-traumatic: The result of a cancerous tumour, inflammation, or infection.

Within these two categories, there are incomplete and complete spinal cord injuries, each presenting with different symptoms.

Incomplete: A person with an incomplete spinal cord injury usually retains some function. Incomplete spinal cord injuries are more common than complete spinal cord injuries partly due to better education on how to administer first aid to car crash victims. Some types of incomplete injuries include:

  • Anterior cord syndrome: This is a neurological condition characterized by trauma to the front of the spinal cord that damages the motor and sensory pathways. With anterior cord syndrome, sensation might be retained but mobility limitations may still exist.
  • Central cord syndrome: Central cord syndrome is the most common cord injury, in which nerve fibres carrying signals from the brain to the spinal cord are damaged. It can result in paralysis of the arms and hands, and sometimes partial impairment of the legs. Loss of bladder or bowel control, sexual function, or fine motor skills can also occur.
  • Brown-Sequard syndrome: This condition is caused by a spinal cord lesion. It causes paralysis or weakness to one side of the body and loss of sensation to the other.

Complete: A complete spinal cord injury happens when the spinal cord is severed and results in more serious complications. With rigorous long-term therapy and timely intervention, a complete spinal cord injury can heal to the degree that some mobility can be regained. Two of the more common complete spinal cord injuries are:

  • Tetraplegia (also known as quadriplegia): This is the most severe condition, resulting in varying degrees of paralysis of all four limbs. Those with tetraplegia cannot move their body below the trauma site. They may have difficulty with bladder and bowel control, respiration, and other normal functions. The higher on the body the injury is, the more severe the condition will be.
  • Paraplegia: This is a result of damage to the thoracic spinal cord. It impairs movement and sensation to the lower half of the body, including the legs. As with all spinal cord injuries, the outcome is more severe the closer the injury is to the top vertebrae.

How are spinal cord injuries treated?

Spinal cord injuries require treatment immediately. If you’ve been involved in a car crash or sports accident (of which approximately one-third of all spinal cord injuries are a result), remain still and avoid moving your spinal column. Prompt emergency care can increase your odds of both survival and recovery.
Once you receive initial medical attention, other emergency care will be administered, including:

  • Medication
  • Immobilization
  • Surgery

Once your condition is stabilized, your medical team will develop a rehabilitation plan that includes a spinal cord injury specialist, psychologist, social worker, and dietician. You will also require physical, occupational, and recreational therapies as part of your recovery.

Your rights

Motor vehicle accidents and falls account for the majority of spinal cord injuries in Ontario (roughly 40% per category), with many being the fault of another party. It’s important to understand the extent of the injuries, their short- and long-term impairments, and the kind of support required going forward. This information will help you and your personal injury lawyer seek damages and enable you to recover as fully as possible.

As the victim of a catastrophic injury, your compensation eligibility may include:

  • Pain and Suffering
  • Lost wages
  • Loss of earning capacity
  • Medical and rehabilitation bills
  • Personal and household care
  • Retraining if you are unable to return to work
  • Assistive devices such as wheelchairs and canes, and/or modifications to your home
  • Other out-of-pocket expenses
  • Short- or long-term disability benefits

If you’ve suffered a spinal cord injury as a result of a motor vehicle accident or a bad fall in the GTA, contact the personal injury attorneys at Rooz Law in North York at 416-229-6000. The sooner you call, the faster we can work to get the compensation you deserve.

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Disclaimer: The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult a lawyer for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create a lawyer-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as a lawyer-client relationship has been established.

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