Much like traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries create a profound impact on both the injured and his or her family. The hardship is felt through drastic physical changes that often involve a great deal of physical pain, as well as emotional trauma, financial hardship, and stress. Regardless of whether the spinal cord damage was caused by an auto accident, workplace accident, fall or assault, or if it was caused by a misdiagnosed tumor or degenerative disease, the resulting nerve damage can cause enormous dysfunction to the body. Depending on the location and degree, a spinal cord injury can alter basic functions such as breathing, eating and sleeping.
Unlike the more visible parts of our bodies, the spinal cord is something we often take for granted. The nerve center that runs through the center of the spine, its job is to relay messages from the brain to the rest of the body. When it suffers injury, all nerves above the site of damage may continue functioning properly, while the nerves below the area of injury suffer a decreased ability to send messages back and forth from the brain to the rest of the body.
Watch our video about the levels of spinal cord injuries, and read the explanations that follow the video.
Cervical Spine (Neck) Injuries
The cervical section of the spine connects the base of the head to the trunk and shoulders (or thorax), and, in conjunction with muscle and tissue, supports the head. When the bones in this region are fractured, it is commonly referred to as a “broken neck.”
Once the spinal cord is injured, all nerves above the level of injury may continue functioning properly. The nerves below the area of injury, however, lose their ability to send messages back and forth from the brain to the rest of the body as efficiently as they did prior to being injured. Because of this, the higher up on the spinal cord the injury occurs, the more areas of the body are affected. When the spinal cord is damaged at the cervical spine region, the result may be partial or complete paralysis (tetraplegia or quadriplegia), or even death.
Cervical spine injuries commonly occur as a result of an automobile accident or other violent collision. They may also occur as a result of a degenerative disease.
Thoracic Spine Injuries
In the chest region where the spine attaches to the ribs is known as the thoracic spine. The spinal canal in this region is relatively smaller than in the other two regions of the spine, the cervical (neck area) and lumbar (lower back) regions, putting the spinal cord in the thoracic region at greater risk for injury. Thoracic injuries often result in permanent neurological damage.
Fractures to the thoracic (mid back) and lumbar (lower back) regions are typically caused by a car accident, major fall or other high velocity accident. There are several complications that can be produced by thoracic spine injuries, including blood clots in the legs, pneumonia and pressure sores. Surgical complications can include bleeding, infection and spinal fluid leaks. These types of complications can be avoided by seeking early medical treatment, medication and proper surgical techniques.
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is a condition caused by narrowing of an outlet between the base of the neck (collarbone) and armpit (first rib). This area, known as the thoracic outlet, is surrounded by muscle, bone and other tissue. Any type of injury or condition that causes swelling or movement of this tissue can result in compression to nerves and/or blood vessels, or what’s known as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.
- Pain in the neck, shoulder, and/or arm
- Numbness or impaired circulation to the extremities
- Pain or weakness in hands and fingers
Common causes of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
- Car Accident Injuries
- Workplace Injuries
- Sports related accident
Symptoms can range from mild to extreme, intermittent to constant. With therapy, this condition can improve, but in severe cases surgery may be needed to open the thoracic outlet.
Lumbar Spine Injuries
The most common spine fractures take place in the thoracic (mid back) and lumbar (lower back) spine, or at the place in the spine where the two connect (thoracolumbar junction). A fracture in these areas is usually caused by a car accident or major fall, or other high velocity accident.
The lumbar spine is the third major region of the spine, located in the lower back. There are typically five bones (or vertebrae) in the lumbar spine that are stacked on top of each other. Between each bone is a gel-like disc (intervertebral disc) that serves as a cushion for the bones to absorb pressure and keep the bones from rubbing. They are held together by groups of ligaments connecting the bones, and tendons connecting the bones to the back muscles. All of these bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles surround the spinal cord, and they work together to stabilize the spine, guard against excessive movement in any direction and protect the spinal cord. Injury to any of these protective mechanisms can cause a great deal of pain that can worsen when left untreated.
The nerve center that runs through the center of the spine is called the spinal cord. It relays messages from the brain to the rest of the body. When the spinal cord is injured at the lumbar spine region, numbness, tingling, weakness, or bowel and bladder dysfunction can occur, or with severe injuries, paralysis of the lower body.
Cauda Equina Injuries
Beneath the lumbar section of the spinal cord where the spinal cord terminates there is a bundle of nerve roots that control bowel, bladder and sexual functions. This region is known as the “cauda equina.” When these nerves are compressed and paralyzed, sensation and movement of the lower body can become seriously compromised, and nerve roots that control bladder and bowel functions are disrupted.
Damage to this bundle of nerves can produce what’s known as “Cauda Equina Syndrome.” It is a very serious condition that requires early treatment to be managed properly. Considered a surgical emergency, if it is not treated promptly it can lead to permanent loss of bladder and bowel control, as well as paralysis of the legs.
Causes of Cauda Equina Syndrome
- Direct trauma from lumbar puncture
- Spinal anesthesia errors
- Trauma from catheters
- High local anesthetic concentrations around the Cauda Equina
- Spinal Stenosis
- Inflammatory conditions
- Tumors and lesions
Between every bone in the spine, or vertebrae, is a gel-like cushion called a disc that absorbs shock and keeps the bones from grinding against one another. Each disc contains an outer band (annulus fibrosus) that encases the gel-like cushion (nucleus pulposus), and like the spine itself, they encase and protect the spinal cord.
If the outer band (annulus fibrosus) of a disc breaks, the inner cushion (nucleus pulposus) can escape. This is called a “Herniated Disc” (or “Herniated Nucleus Pulposus”). If the damaged disc pushes into the spinal canal or nerve roots, it can cause a gret deal of pain or other neurological disruptions. In some cases, a herniated disc may cause Cauda Equina Syndrome.
A cervical herniated disc occurs in the neck area and typically causes shoulder, arm or back pain. Arm pain is a very common cervical spine condition, which results from the injured disc material pinching a cervical nerve. Pain, numbness, tingling and muscle weakness may also run all the way down to the fingertips.
A thoracic herniated disc occurs in the upper spine and usually causes upper back pain, and possibly other neurological symptoms.
A lumbar herniated disc occurs in the lower spine and causes lower back pain, muscle spasms, cramping, sciatica, and leg pain or weakness. It is often referred to as a pinched nerve, bulging disc, ruptered disc, or a slipped disc.
Any type of accident or traumatic event can cause a herniated disc, which in turn can be responsible for persistent back pain, shooting leg, shoulder or arm pain, and numbness or weakness in your back, legs or arms. In severe cases it may result in spinal cord injury.
Spinal Cord Injury Lawyer in Sacramento
The best personal injury attorneys work hard to obtain excellent results for their injured clients to enable them to seek out the resources they need for maximum recovery. Because damage to the spinal cord can affect so many different functions of the body, this requires rehabilitation facilities and care providers who specialize in spinal cord injury. It’s important to hire an attorney with experience handling spinal cord injury cases, who has the understanding and resources to help point the injured client in the right direction.
Our spinal cord injury attorneys have taken on big corporations, insurance companies and other defendants and held them accountable for both economic and non-economic damages their negligent or careless acts caused. We have over twenty years of experience representing clients who have been seriously injured, and have obtained numerous jury verdicts and settlements on their behalf.
Eric Ratinoff has taken part in achieving exceptional results on behalf of spinal cord injury survivors, including:
- $7.6 million spinal cord injury jury verdict on behalf of a young woman rendered T4 paraplegic due to U.C. Davis Medical Center’s failure to diagnose a tumor on her thoracic spine.
- $1.1 million in a chiropractic malpractice case in which the plaintiff’s chiropractor failed to diagnose Cauda Equina Syndrome, resulting in permanent paralysis.
If you have a legal question pertaining to a spinal cord injury, our Sacramento personal injury lawyers will gladly meet you at your location to discuss your case free of charge or obligation. For a free and confidential case evaluation, call us locally at (916) 473-1LAW, or toll free at 866-527-4278. Or alternately, you can fill out the contact form on this page.