There are 206 bones in the human body. Most of them serve strictly constructional purposes, and are perfectly capable of repairing themselves if they break. But there are 33 bones in the human body that are not nearly as sturdy, and if they are damaged even slightly, the results can be disastrous.
The Spinal Cord: Structure and Function
Every move that a human being makes, from getting out of bed to turning on the radio to dunking a basketball, could not happen without the spinal cord. The 33 vertebrae of the human spine contain neuron pathways that control both motor function and sensory function. The front (dorsal) half of the spinal cord carries motor neurons that are responsible for movement. Impulses travel from the brain and move through the dorsal neurons, and then move to the various muscle groups that allow you to walk, drive a car, type, or any of the myriad of movements that a human is capable of. The rear section of the cord carries sensory neurons that allow you to feel. The human function of movement and the human sense of touch and feel depend entirely on this complex pathway system.
The thirty three individual vertebrae are divided into four different categories, each with a function that is specific to different parts of the body.
Cervical Vertebrae (numbered C1 through C8) occupy the first 8 bones in the spinal cord. Nerves in the Cervical Vertebrae are responsible for movement and sensory perception of the head and neck, biceps, triceps and hands, as well as the movement of the diaphragm, which allows humans to breathe on their own.
Thoracic Vertebrae (numbered T1 through T12) nerves are responsible for the chest and abdominal muscles.
Lumbar Vertebrae (numbered L1 through L5) nerves control the leg muscles, which allow for human mobility.
Sacral Vertebrae (numbered S1 through S5) nerves control bowel, bladder and sexual function.
While the actual bones of the vertebrae are capable of regenerating, the fragile neurological pathways that they protect are incapable of self repair.
Spinal Damage and Consequences
Traumatic damage to the spinal cord can come from falls, car accidents, gunshots, or any incident in which the neuron pathways are damaged. While a fracture or traumatic misalignment of human vertebrae can sometimes result in no impairment of motor or sensory functions, damage to the neurons in the vertebrae can result in a loss of feeling and movement to the victim.
Complete Injuries: Quadriplegia and Paraplegia
The closer in proximity to the neck and brain that the neural pathways are, the more important they are to the proper function of the rest of them. For instance, damage to a vertebrae that is numbered higher in the C Category (typically C-4 or higher) can result in a complete lack of function in all the neuron pathways that exist below. Quadriplegia is a condition that results in a complete lack of feeling and motion from the neck down. A typical C-4 quadriplegic cannot even breathe without the aid of a respirator.
Less severe paralytic conditions occur when there is damage in either the T or L Category of vertebrae, resulting in paralysis from the chest or waist down. Some L Category paraplegics are able to retain some level of self mobility through the use of wheelchairs.
An incomplete spinal injury victim has had some vertebral nerve clusters damaged, but not others. Movement of one limb but not another many be possible, or the victim might be able to still retain feeling in an extremity even though he or she cannot move it.
The financial burden of a spinal injury is enormous. The initial hospitalization usually lasts for fifteen days, at an average cost of $144,000. The first year after the injury, the average medical cost for a C-1 to C-4 quadriplegic is $572,178, including the subsequent rehabilitative work, which could last for up to a year depending on the severity of the injury. There are also peripheral expenses that can mount up, including twenty four hour nursing care, respirators, and wheelchairs, that can cost up to $20,000. Also included is the need for specialized transportation involving customized vans with lifts.
Although the financial expenses of a typical spinal injury are enormous, the emotional costs are equally steep. The victim of a spinal injury has to learn how to adjust in a world that has suddenly become practically unmanageable. Something as simple as a flight of stairs or a steep curb can make getting from place to place extraordinarily difficult. Friends and loved ones have to learn how to help manage the condition, sacrificing their own time and in some cases their own money.
A spinal injury is tragic enough, but the sense of pain and loss is compounded if the injury happened through no fault of the victim. If you or a loved one has been in an accident where the result was a debilitating spinal injury, Laufenberg, Stombaugh & Jassak, S.C. has the experience to know what your immediate needs are and what they will be in the future. We can help navigate the hearings, arbitration and insurance company stalling tactics to help you get your life back on track.