Coping with a Spinal Injury

Coping with a Spinal Injury

An estimated 85,500 Canadians live with a spinal cord injury, or SCI. Nearly half of these injured people suffered a non-traumatic injury, which means that their SCIs were caused by medical conditions such as the degeneration of the spinal column, an infection, a tumour or cancer, or a congenital condition. Approximately 44,000 of these cases were caused by traumatic injury, or an abrupt traumatic hit to the spine resulting in damage to the vertebrae or the severing of the spinal cord. Most of these traumatic injuries are the result of motor vehicle accidents, but other causes include falls, sports-related injuries, and acts of violence. Each year there are more than 4,500 new cases of spinal cord injury in Canada, and the annual economic burden of SCI is approximately $3.6 billion, about half of which is associated with direct health care costs. Cases of SCI are expected to rise over the next two decades, due to Canada’s aging population.



Effects of SCIs

Living with a spinal cord injury can be very challenging. Almost every aspect of everyday life can be affected by an SCI, and these types of injuries often result in a loss of independence that is devastating. The effects of an SCI are dependent on where the injury occurs. There are 33 vertebrae in a human spine, which medical professionals divide into five sections: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral, and coccygeal. The higher up on the spine the damage occurs, the more bodily functions are affected. When the spinal cord is completely severed, there is a complete loss of movement and sensation below the break. If the spinal cord did not complete sever, some feeling and movement may be possible.

  • Coccygeal. Five fused vertebrae at the bottom of the spine. Injuries to this area are not associated with any significant nerve impairment.
  • Sacral. Five vertebrae located in the pelvic area, known as S1 – S5. Damage to this area can result in decreased control of hips, legs, bladder, bowel and sexual function.
  • Lumbar. Five vertebrae in the lower back, known as L1 – L5. Injury to this area results in decreased control of hips and legs, as well as bladder, bowel and sexual function.
  • Thoracic. Twelve vertebrae that extend through the chest area, known as T1 – T12. When the injury is in the lower vertebrae in this section (T9 – T12), it can result in variable loss of trunk and abdominal muscle control, in addition to the above effects. If the damage affects the T1 – T8 area, there is usually a noticeable decrease in trunk stability due to a loss of control of abdominal muscles. There may also be some impairment of respiratory muscle function.
  • Cervical. The most severe injuries are those to these upper seven vertebrae, where nerves control head and neck movement, the diaphragm, deltoids, biceps, and muscles controlling the wrist and hands. If the break is in the C7 area, the patient may retain the use of their arms, but lose hand dexterity. A C6 injury results in limited wrist control and the loss of much hand function. C5 injuries often affect shoulder and biceps functions, and C4 entails a significant loss of function at the shoulders and below. Injury to the C1, C2 and C3 sections of the spinal cord typically results in loss of function to the neck and below, including loss of diaphragm function which necessitates a ventilator for breathing. Many cervical injuries result in death.

The consequences of spinal cord injuries are usually described as either quadriplegia (tetraplegia) or paraplegia. Tetraplegia (or quadriplegia) involves impairment of function in the arms as well as in the trunk, legs, and pelvic organs. Paraplegia involves impairment of the trunk, legs and pelvic organs, but with arm function not impaired.



Making Life Easier

Adjusting to life with a spinal cord injury is not easy, but fortunately there are resources available to people who have sustained this type of damage. In addition, there is a growing realization that accessibility is necessary to help all citizens participate fully in society.


If you or a family member has sustained a traumatic SCI, you will face many unexpected expenses. These might include medical equipment, home renovations, caregiver fees, and transportation expenses. Depending on the circumstances of your accident, you may be able to recover these expenses, plus compensation for the loss of income, pain and suffering, and more.


Talk to a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible to learn more about your options. Personal injury lawyers have experience in spinal injury cases, and can guide you through the process of filing an insurance claim or bringing a lawsuit. Most Toronto personal injury law firms offer a free initial consultation, which means that you can see someone and get information before deciding to engage him/her. Personal injury firms usually work on a contingency basis, which means that your lawyer will not charge by the hour, but rather will receive a percentage of any settlement money.


You don’t have to suffer financially or emotionally if you have sustained a spinal injury. Coping with a spinal injury is a whole new world for you and your support people. Contact a personal injury lawyer today, and get the compensation you deserve.