An estimated 12,500 spinal cord injuries occur in the United States every year. Injuries range in severity from temporary bruising to complete paralysis or even death.
The spinal cord is a column of nerves stretching from the base of your brain down to your tailbone. It is protected by both a sheath of myelin and your spinal column, which consists of 31 vertebrae. The spinal cord is separated into four distinct regions:
- The cervical spinal cord (brain and neck area)
- Thoracic spinal cord (upper back)
- Lumbar spinal cord (lower back)
- Sacral spinal cord (tailbone area)
Injury to the spinal cord is generally categorized as either complete (fully severed or compromised, eliminating function entirely below the level of injury) or incomplete (partially severed or compromised, retaining some function below the injury level). Forty percent of spinal cord injuries are complete, while the remaining sixty percent are incomplete. Often, the difference between a complete injury (or incomplete injury with permanent loss of function) or an incomplete injury and full return of function is how quickly the cause of spinal cord compromise is diagnosed and treated.
The most common types of spinal cord injury are tetraplegia (affecting all limbs), paraplegia (affecting function below the waist) and triplegia (affecting one arm and both legs). Damage can be to the front of the spinal cord (anterior cord syndrome), the center of the spinal cord (central cord syndrome) or to one side of the spinal cord (Brown-Sequard syndrome). There are additional variations of injury and spinal cord injury syndromes, including the often misdiagnosed cauda equina syndrome, which usually presents as severe back and/or leg pain combined with urinary or bowel dysfunction.
The most common causes of spinal cord injury are motor vehicle accidents, falls, acts of violence, sports and recreation injuries and disease processes such as cancer, infection, inflammation, etc. Because the spinal cord exists in a fairly closed environment, it is susceptible to mechanical compression injuries from such causes as herniated disks, cord swelling, blood collection (hematoma) or fluid collection (abscess). Lack of blood flow to the spinal cord (cord ischemia) is another potential cause of spinal cord injury.
A partial list of spinal cord injury symptoms includes:
- radiating back pain
- sensory changes like numbness, tingling or loss of sensation/function in the extremities or genital area
- clumsiness or lack of coordination or fine motor control
- varying degrees of paralysis
- problems with or changes in bowel and bladder function
- difficulty breathing
In the case of evolving spinal cord injuries, time is of the essence and early detection and treatment, often surgery, can mean the difference between the full return of normal function and loss of function. Definitive diagnosis of spinal cord injuries requires radiology studies such as CT or MRI. In the case of traumatic injury, prompt diagnosis and treatment are likewise critical to ensuring the best possible outcome.
Spinal cord injuries can affect not only the use of the patient’s extremities but also the patient’s ability to control bowel and bladder. Spinal cord injuries are devastating not only for the patient but also for family members. The costs of treating such injuries and their consequences can be overwhelming.
Medical malpractice cases involving spinal cord injury often relate to a delay in diagnosis or treatment. Other types of cases include affirmative injury to the spinal cord due to accidents, falls, surgical mishap, product defects or other causes.
The litigation of these cases requires the development of a life care plan to determine how much money is needed to pay for the medical care required for the remainder of the injured party’s life.
At Youman & Caputo, we have extensive experience litigating and securing large verdicts and settlements in spinal cord injury cases of all types, including medical malpractice, product liability, accidents, surgical injuries, and other cases. If you would like a free consultation regarding a spinal cord injury suffered by you or a loved one, please contact us.