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Which types of back injuries cause paralysis

Texans who sustain a back injury in an auto, sports or other accident may injure their spine so severely that they must spend the remainder of their lives in a wheelchair. Such was the case with noted Superman actor Christopher Reeve who became paralyzed from the neck down as the result of a riding accident.

The Reeve Foundation, started by Christopher and his wife Dana after his accident, estimates that more than 1.2 million Americans live with spinal cord paralysis today. The statistics break down as follows:

  • Males represent nearly 80 percent of spinal cord injury victims.
  • Children and young adults sustain the vast majority of SCIs.
  • Motor vehicle accidents, sports-related injuries, falls and acts of violence represent the major causes of SCIs, whether or not they result in paralysis.
  • Cervical SCIs account for over 50 percent of paralytic injuries.
  • Thoracic SCIs account for approximately 33 percent of paralytic injuries.
  • Lumbar SCIs account for the majority of other paralytic injuries.

Injuries to the spine’s various regions

UPMC Enterprises explains that a person’s spine contains the following four regions

  1. Cervical extending from the brain’s base to the neck’s lower portion
  2. Thoracic extending from the bottom of the neck to the person’s waist
  3. Lumbar extending from the person’s waist to lower back
  4. Sacral extending from the bottom of the person’s lower back to his or her tailbone

Since the brain sends messages to all parts of a person’s body via nerves in the spinal cord, any SCI can damage those nerves and consequently prevent the messages from getting through. Depending on the severity of the injury, the result can be total loss of feeling and function in all parts of the body below the point of injury.

Paraplegia versus quadriplegia

The two types of paralysis are paraplegia and quadriplegia, and paraplegia itself takes two forms. If the person’s SCI occurs anywhere in his or her lumbar region, his or her legs become paralyzed, consigning him or her to a wheelchair. If the SCI occurs in the person’s thoracic region, (s)he loses feeling in and function of his or her torso as well as legs. Quadriplegia occurs with an SCI to the person’s cervical region and deprives him or her of feeling to and function of his or entire body. Most quadriplegics not only must spend their remaining lives in a wheelchair, but also require mechanical ventilation in order to breathe.

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