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There are thought to be over 40,000 people living with a spinal cord injury in the UK. Over 1,000 people each year sustain a spinal cord injury and could pursue a spinal injury claim.
The majority of injuries result in paralysis, and the impact of such an injury can turn lives upside down. Individuals, and their families, living with the impairment, are faced with not only the challenge of coming to terms with the injury, but also rebuilding their lives with the disability.
Not all serious injuries to the spine result in spinal cord injury. A person may experience severe fractures to the bones of the spine (the vertebrae) without damaging the spinal cord itself.
A spinal cord injury is damage or trauma to the spinal cord. The spinal cord itself is about 45 cm long, running from the base of the brain through the centre of the vertebrae, to about waist level.
Damage to the spinal cord, whether caused by trauma or disease, can result in a complete loss or impaired level of function, and reduced mobility or feeling.
If the spinal cord is damaged, either wholly or partly, the spinal nerves joining the cord below the level of injury will be affected and the ability of the brain to send messages to the body below the level of injury will be compromised.
Trauma is a common cause of spinal cord injury. The most common of the incidents giving rise to spinal cord injury are falls (approximately 42%), road traffic accidents (37%), sports (12%) and assault (3%).
A spinal cord injury can be either complete or incomplete. A complete injury means that there is total paralysis below the level of the injury, i.e. no sensation and no voluntary movement.
An incomplete injury results in a reduced level of functioning below the level of the injury.
Injuries at the cervical (neck) level, above the C4 level, may result in a person suffering breathing difficulties as well as partial or complete paralysis of the arms and legs. Lesions of the spinal cord at C4 level can result in tetrapelgia (complete paralysis below the neck).
Injuries at C6 level can result in partial paralysis of the hands and arms as well as the lower body.
Injuries at T4 level can result in paraplegia (paralysis below the chest).
Lesions of the spinal cord at L1 level often result in paraplegia (with paralysis below the waist).
The full extent of the paralysis will depend upon the exact level of the injury and whether there has been a complete or incomplete lesion of the spinal cord but an injured spine claim can be made at all levels.