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How a spinal cord injury affects a victim

A spinal cord injury occurs when vertebrae of the spine are fractured or dislocated due to a traumatic blow or impact. Typically, disc material, bone fragments or ligaments tear or bruise spinal cord tissue. The vertebrae destroy or crush extensions of nerve cells that carry signals from the brain to the rest of the body, also called axons, which in turn affects feeling and movement in various areas of the body. In severe cases, a spinal cord injury could result in complete paralysis.

There are two classifications of spinal cord injuries - complete or incomplete. Complete injuries are more severe, and mean that the victim likely suffers from a complete lack of sensory and motor function below the level of the injury. Less severe injuries are called incomplete injuries, which range in severity. With incomplete injuries, victims retain some level of motor and sensory functions. Many spinal cord injury victims also suffer from chronic pain, bowel and bladder dysfunction and respiratory and heart issues.

Treatments vary, depending on the severity of the injury. If the steroid drug methylprednisolone is applied within 8 hours, there is a chance that damage to the nerve cells may be reduced. Various aggressive treatments and rehabilitation may restore abilities in some cases. Electrical stimulation may also restore some functions, such as breathing and limb movements.

Anyone who is suffering from a severe spinal cord injury and who is unable to work for at least a year may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income from the Social Security Administration. It may be useful to get more information about SSD benefits to see whether you qualify and to learn how to apply.

Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, "NINDS Spinal Cord Injury Information Page," Accessed Dec. 29, 2015

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