A spinal cord injury usually results in the area of the body below the injury site being partially or completely unable to communicate with the brain. The messages between the brain and the body are blocked by the damaged spinal cord which results in the patient experiencing either Paraplegia or Quadriplegia. Any nerves above the level of the injury site which remain undamaged will continue to function as normal.
Paraplegia: If the injury occurs below the first thoracic vertebrae in the upper back region the paralysis is likely to be confined to the legs with more severe injuries resulting in loss of movement in the abdomen and up to the nipple line. A paraplegic patient will retain full use of their arms and hands.
Quadriplegia: Also known as Tetraplegia, Quadriplegia is when the injury site occurs above the first thoracic vertebrae in the cervical vertebrae or neck region of the body. This type of paralysis generally results in loss of movement in all limbs. In addition the abdominal and chest muscles will also be affected resulting in weakened breathing and the inability to properly cough and clear the chest.
Level of Injury
The level of injury, or lesion, is the exact site at which the damage has occurred to the spinal cord. This is important as it will determine how groups of muscles, organs and sensations will be affected. The type of damage and the way the spinal cord has been affected is also a consideration in determining the extent of a spinal cord injury.
There are two types of lesions, complete and incomplete injury. A person with a complete injury will have complete loss of muscle control and sensation below the site of their injury. A person with an incomplete injury may experience paralysis only in the muscles or impaired sensation.
Functionality after a spinal cord injury
Retaining function after a spinal cord injury depends upon where the injury occurred and whether it was complete or incomplete. To demonstrate what functionality may be possible after a complete spinal cord injury the site www.apparelyzed.com has put together an overview of what abilities are retained or can be regained after different degrees of paralysis.
|Anterior Cord Syndrome: is when the damage is towards the front of the spinal cord, this can leave a person with the loss or impaired ability to sense pain, temperature and touch sensations below their level of injury. Pressure and joint sensation may be preserved. It is possible for some people with this injury to later recover some movement.|
|Central Cord Syndrome: is when the damage is in the centre of the spinal cord. This typically results in the loss of function in the arms, but some leg movement may be preserved. There may also be some control over the bowel and bladder preserved. It is possible for some recovery from this type of injury, usually starting in the legs, gradually progressing upwards.|
|Posterior Cord Syndrome: is when the damage is towards the back of the spinal cord. This type of injury may leave the person with good muscle power, pain and temperature sensation, however they may experience difficulty in coordinating movement of their limbs.|
|Brown-Séquard syndrome: is when damage is towards one side of the spinal cord. This results in impaired or loss of movement to the injured side, but pain and temperature sensation may be preserved. The opposite side of injury will have normal movement, but pain and temperature sensation will be impaired or lost.|
Cauda equina lesion: The Cauda Equina is the mass of nerves which fan out of the spinal cord at between the first and second Lumbar region of the spine. The spinal cord ends at L1 and L2 at which point a bundle of nerves travel downwards through the Lumbar and Sacral vertebrae. Injury to these nerves will cause partial or complete loss of movement and sensation. It is possible, if the nerves are not too badly damaged, for them to grow again and for the recovery of function.
Our goal is to create a better future for those suffering from spinal cord injuries and ultimately deliver a cure. This will involve using a combination approach of several synergistic treatment modalities which address the complex multi-factorial pathologies of chronic spinal cord injury.
One approach may involve the use of stem cells to develop cell-based therapies.
In recent years stem cell therapies have become a hot topic of debate. The main controversy surrounding stem cells is the use of embryonic cells. The use of embryonic stem cells will require the use of immunosuppressant drugs, drugs which prevent the body from rejecting the new cells. This poses severe risks to spinal cord injury patients many of whom already have chronic infections.
The research that we are interested in involves the use of adult stem cells, preferably bone marrow stromal cells, which can be obtained from the patient themselves thus avoiding the need for immunosuppressant drugs.
Links/ Further Reading
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