The spinal cord is a very important part of the body. The brain and the spinal cord make up the Central Nervous System and is the major pathway for messages to be distributed throughout the body. Due to this, the consequences of sustaining an injury to the spinal cord can be severe.
The spinal cord is protected by the 24 vertebrae in the backbone and there are four divisions – Cervical, Thoracic, Lumbar and Sacral.
If an injury occurs to the spinal cord, movement will be effected differently, depending on the level of injury. Tetraplegia (quadriplegia) results after an injury occurs in the cervical segments – C1 – C8 and paraplegia results after an injury occurs in the thoracic, lumbar or sacral segments. The higher an injury is, the more movement is lost.
Each nerve carries different messages throughout the body from the brain and will affect the degree of lost mobility. The level of loss is dependent on which nerve is injured. As mentioned, the higher along the spinal cord the injury is, the more mobility will be lost. This is due to the fact that these nerve messages cannot move past the site of the injury.
The figure on the right shows the specific areas that are affected when an injury occurs at each point along the spinal cord: As is clearly seen by this diagram, the degree of mobility can vary quite considerably.