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Primary Effects of a Spinal Cord Injury

Most people who can walk and don’t have a spinal cord usually think spinal cord injury victims have just lost the use of their legs. While losing your legs and the ability to walk is a major loss, spinal cord injury victims lose much more than just their ability to walk. Let’s discuss the primary effects of a spinal cord injury.

Primary Effects:

  • 1. Voluntary Motor Function: As mentioned above this is the most obvious loss. Damage of the descending motor tracts, anterior horn cells, or nerve roots impairs the capacity to contract the skeletal muscles below the spinal cord injury. This results in the loss of control over the trunk and extremities.
  • 2. Muscle Tone: Muscle tone throughout the body has two opposite effects. The obvious problem is that when extremities muscles are no longer used they lose muscle tone. On the other hand, after a spinal cord injury spasticity creates a velocity dependent increase in muscle tone in response to passive movement. This is why so many spinal cord victims are on muscle relaxers. The spasms are more severe in certain areas of their bodies.
  • 3. Sensation: Sensation is lost in certain areas of the body which leads to awkward or discoordination of body movements.
  • 4. Breathing and Coughing: Breathing and coughing utilizes the diaphragm, accessory muscles, intercostals, and abdominal musculature. A spinal cord injury above T12 will affect these muscles and create respiratory problems.
  • 5. Bowel and Bladder Function: The sacral cord must be intact to have control over these functions. Almost all spinal cord injuries affect the ability to control bowel and bladder function. Undoubtedly, an embarrassing problem for patients.
  • 6. Cardiovascular Function: Obviously the spinal cord controls everything. When impairment occurs the muscles giving inflow and outflow to the heart are weakened causing blood pressure problems, heart rate problems, and distribution of blood flow reduction. When spinal cord injury blocks communication between the brainstem and the thoracic spinal cord, input to the heart is lost. This disruption to the heart often causes hypotension.
  • 7. Thermoregulation: Usually spinal cord injury victim experience a core temperature drop. The body naturally begins to shiver to increase the body temperature. Then the body tends to overheat and the person experiences cold to hot problems.

These are simply the primary effect that a spinal cord injury patient starts to experience. These issues lead to other complications. The next time you meet someone with a spinal cord injury remember their complications are much more than just not being able to walk.

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