SCI stands for Spinal Cord Injury, which is any damage to the spinal cord causing a lack of function in the body. Typically, such loss of function includes a loss of movement or sensation
The spine or spinal column is made up of a series of interconnected bones called vertebrae, extending from the eight cervical vertabrae in the neck, down through the twelve thoracic vertabrae in the chest, to the five lumbar vertabrae in the lower back, and finally through the five sacral vertabrae extending into the pelvic region.
The spinal cord is the bundle of nerves, approximately 18 inches in length, running through the center of the spine and connecting the brain to the nerves running throughout the body. The nerves in the spinal cord are comprised of upper motor neurons (UMNs), which connect to lower motor neurons (LMNs) and lower sensory neurons (LSNs) that project out from each vertabra and extend to the various regions of the body.
In essence, the spinal column is the protective channel through which the body's most crucial communication system, the spinal cord, relays messages back and forth between the brain and every part of the body. When any part of the spinal column is injured, weakened, out of place, or exposed to infection, the spinal cord is at severe risk of damage. It is possible to incur spinal injuries without damaging the spinal cord or for the adverse effects on the nervous system to be temporary. SCIs are distinct from spinal injuries, but they are certainly very frequently connected.
The effects of SCI vary according to the person suffering from the injury, but they can include the loss of the use of the legs (paraplegia), the loss of use of the arms and legs (quadraplegia), a complete or partial loss of feeling in some or all body parts, the inability to regulate blood pressure, the loss of the ability to breathe, losing the capacity to sweat in certain areas, the loss or limitation of sexual function in men and women and/or fertility (especially in men). Someone suffering from SCI will also typically endure significant chronic pain as well.
The extent of the loss of function in SCI is determined by the severity and location of the damage to the spinal cord. Incomplete damage to the spinal cord at the point of injury wtaiill result in partial loss of mobility and sensation below the point of injury. In the case of an incomplete injury, the person with SCI may retain some feelin in parts of the body that can't be moved or slight mobility on one side more than the other. With a complete injury, someone with SCI loses all movement and sensation on both sides of the body below the point of injury.
The point of injury determines the extent of the loss of function, as only the body parts and system connected to the portion of the spinal cord above the point of injury will retain function. The closer to the brain the injury is, the more areas of the body will be affected as communication with the brain is cut off.
Spinal cord injuries in the neck result in the greatest loss, with injuries high in the neck hampering even the involuntary systems of breathing and blood pressure regulation as well as resulting in quadraplegia. The lower vertabrae in the neck feed into control of the shoulders and biceps, the forearms and wrists, and the hands, so the lower on the neck the injury is located, the more control of the arms is possible. Injuries to the thoracic portion of the spinal cord will limit the control and sensation of the trunk and abdomen and affect the ability to balance or sit up, while resulting in paraplegia. SCIs located lower in the spine affect the extent to which mobility and sensation remain in portions of the legs and hip flexors.
Any SCI is tragic, but the location of severity of an SCI will determine the extent of the injuries, and every last area of sensation and control are vital to the person suffering from SCI.
In the United States alone, 450,000 people have SCI with about 10,000 new injuries happening every year.
The vast majority of SCIs (82%) occur in males between the ages of 16 and 30.
Accidents cause the majority of spinal cord injuries with 28% occuring in the workplace, 24% in motor vehicle accidents, 16% in recreational accidents, and 9% coming as the result of a fall. Most SCIs result from some sort of physical trauma, while 3% are the result of birth defects.
In the first year alone, a person with a severe spinal cord injury can expect to spend an average between $225,000 and $775,000 in expenses related to SCI, depending on the point of injury, the severity of the injury, and other personal factors. Here you can see a breakdown of just some of the expenses a person with spinal cord injury faces.
In the United States alone, there are approximately 10,000 spinal cord injuries a year. That's one person every 49 seconds who sees their lives permanently altered.
Spinal cord injury is one of the leading causes of paralysis (23%), but other causes include stroke (29%), multiple sclerosis (17%), and cerebral palsy (7%). Nearly 6 million people in the United States alone suffer from paralysis.