The five senses are traditionally thought of as sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. The loss of even part of one of our senses can be devastating. How much moreso when the loss is total and/or to multiple senses. Perhaps the sense of taste is the one that most people would choose, if they had to lose one. But think how life would be so much less full without the ability to truly enjoy a good meal. In this series of blogs, I examine paralysis, spinal cord injury and the sensory losses that accompany this type of injury.
Spinal Cord Injury
Spinal cord injury disrupts communication between the brain and body. Sensory, input and activities such as speaking, walking and breathing may be affected. An injured spinal cord cannot send and receive messages from the brain to the systems that controls sensory, motor, and autonomic function. The location and severity of the injury will determine the areas effected and the diagnosis and treatment of the injury.
The spinal cord is divided into four areas: cervical (neck), thoracic (behind chest), lumbar (lower back), and sacral (bottom of the spinal column). Injuries to the cervical spine can cause complete paralysis of the upper and lower extremities and may also involve the head and neck and the ability to breathe. A lesser injury may result in damage to just the thoracic, lumbar and/or sacral regions of the spine and may affect the chest and abdomen. Injuries to the lower back affect the hips and legs. Injuries to the bottom of the spinal column affect the bowel, bladder and sexual functions. Paraplegics retain the ability to use their arms and hands.
Injuries to the spinal cord commonly lead to paralysis and involve damage to the nerves within the bony protection of the spinal canal. The spinal cord does not have to be severed for a loss of function to occur. The spinal cord can be bruised, stretched, or crushed. Patients with an incomplete spinal cord injury can retain some movement and sensation. They may have greater function on one side of the body than on the other. Some experience sensation in certain areas below the site of the injury, even where they are unable to move those areas. If the spinal cord injury is complete, the patient will be completely paralyzed below the site of the injury, in many cases permanently.
Patients with spinal cord injuries may suffer long term loss of muscle control and sensation, inability to perceive body parts or regulate body temperature, loss of bladder control, loss of sexual sensation and function, pain and inability to breathe without assistance.
Click here to read part two…