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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

What Is It?

The spinal cord carries nerve signals from the brain to the rest of the body. Trauma to the spinal cord can result from a number of injuries: about half occur after motor vehicle accidents; 25% after falls; 15% after a gunshot wound or other violence; and 10% after sports-related injuries. More than 80% of cases of spinal cord trauma occur in people between the ages of 15 and 35, and approximately 80% of those affected are male. Up to one-quarter of cases occur after significant alcohol ingestion. Pre-existing disease in the spine can make spinal cord trauma more likely. For example, complications of rheumatoid arthritis or osteoporosis may lead to spinal cord damage.

Most spinal cord injuries occur in the area of the neck called the cervical region. Trauma can result from bruising to the spinal cord itself, loss of blood flow to the cord or cuts in the cord. Spinal cord injuries are serious and can cause diminished strength, coordination and sensation as well as other functions, such as bladder control.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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