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How Does Paralysis Happen?


Spinal cord injuries, and paralysis, are some of the most devastating injuries that an accident victim can sustain. But what causes paralysis? How is it that some people injure their back and walk away from the accident (or at least, walk again at some point), while others never walk again?

The Anatomy of the Spinal Column

To understand paralysis, you must understand how the structures of the spine work. The spine is a thin column of nerves, protected by bones called vertebrae (the bones you commonly see in the back). The vertebrae are cushioned by jelly-like discs, which prevent the vertebrae from rubbing against each other.

The spinal nerves run through both the discs and the vertebrae. In some ways this is good–the spine is protected by the tough bony vertebrae. But in another way, this is very dangerous. An accident that causes a vertebrae to jut out and push into, or even sever, the spinal column that runs inside of it, can cut off nerve function, leading to paralysis.

How Paralysis Happens

Usually paralysis happens below the site of the injury. For example, a vertebra that is damaged and which cuts into the spinal cord in the lumbar spine may cause paraplegia or loss if use of the legs and lower body. The same injury in the neck area may cause total loss of usage of the body.

Damage to the “spine” may or may not be severe–that may be damage to the discs, or the vertebrae. But damage to the spinal nerves or spinal column itself is what causes paralysis, and science does not have any way to regenerate spinal nerves.

The spinal cord and spinal nerves don’t have to be completely severed for paralysis to result. The spinal nerves can be “impeded” or pressed on or pressured by surrounding discs and bones just enough that signals are not able to get from the brain to other parts of the body. Or, there may be a loss of some, but not all, feeling and function in a limb. Paralysis is not an “all or nothing” injury.

Recovery and Permanency

Paralysis is not always permanent. In many cases, victims may regain usage of limbs after some time. Even if use of limbs is eventually achieved, victims may still have lifelong numbness, loss of sensation, or loss of control of bowel or bladder function.

It is often difficult to tell, early on, whether a victim will recover completely or whether the victim is permanently paralyzed. We do know that the quicker someone gets treatment and therapy, the more likely it is that the victim recovers some, or all, function. Often, doctors can perform immediate surgery to move the vertebrae, thus relieving pressure on the spinal nerves.

Have you been in a catastrophic accident, or suffered a life altering injury because of the negligence of someone else? Call the Clinton personal injury attorneys at Fox Willis Burnette, PLLC, today for help with your case.



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