This was cut in half.So, if your

This lesson will go over the things that can traumatize your spinal cord, what spinal cord trauma may result in, and why that may occur. We’ll also focus in on some of the specifics of spinal shock and autonomic dysreflexia.

Spinal Cord Trauma

So you just bought a new tablet and want to connect it to your computer to transfer some music and videos. Great! The tablet is like your brain in its ability to process lots of information, and the cord running from it is like your spinal cord that links signals left and right for the tablet.You’d think that the brain is more important than the spinal cord, and it is, but with a broken wire, you’ll never get what you want transferred over to the tablet. Similarly, if your spinal cord is traumatized, your brain can’t tell your body what to do nor receive information about the body’s problems very well at all. Therefore, this lesson will point out some problems that may be associated with spinal cord trauma.

Mechanisms of Spinal Cord Trauma

The way by which a spinal cord may be traumatized varies greatly. The simplest thing you can imagine happening is having it sliced in half in a terrible car accident.

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Other ways by which the spinal cord can be traumatized is by way of toxins or infectious diseases, like viruses and much more. The end result of any one of these methods leads to the inability of the spinal cord to properly send and receive information by way of nerve cells.Again, your spinal cord is like a wire running up to something like a computer, your brain.

One end of the wire plugs into the computer, and the other end plugs into something like a speaker. If you were to take a knife and cut the wire in half, then no signal can travel to or be received from the point of the defect. Therefore, the computer won’t be able to signal the speaker to play music, and the speaker won’t be able to tell the computer that they’re connected. Your computer will just think there is no speaker there at all because the wire was cut in half.So, if your spinal cord is traumatized lower down, by your pelvis, you may not be able to feel or move your legs.

If it’s traumatized higher up, by your neck, you not only won’t be able to feel or move your legs, but also your arms.

Spinal Shock

However, sensation and motor movement of your muscles aren’t the only things that may be affected in spinal cord trauma. Reflexes may be affected as well. Reflexes are involuntary and almost instantaneous movements of or within the body that try to return the body to a state of normalcy as a result of a stimulus. For instance, I’ll point out one reflex that you are all too aware of.

If you’ve ever touched an extremely hot stove by accident, you probably didn’t just leave your hand on the hot stove debating why you should or shouldn’t remove the hand from the stove. You instantaneously, involuntarily, and without any thought process, removed your hand as a result of the stimulus, the hot stove.Another famous example of a reflex involves you getting your knee hit by a doctor’s rubber mallet. When the mean doctor hits your knee with that mallet in just the right spot, your knee will jerk upwards. This happens because nerves that sensed the mallet’s impact on the knee traveled up to the spinal cord where they connected to other nerves that traveled right back down to the affected leg and forced it, involuntarily, to jerk your leg.Depending on the type of injury to the spinal cord and its location, some reflexes may remain intact even below the level of the injury, precisely because they do not rely on any significant communication with the brain, which is located above the injury, in order to function.

That’s an oversimplification of what actually occurs, but is necessary for our purposes to prevent unnecessary confusion.Regardless, in serious cases of spinal cord injury, such as complete severance of it, even reflexes that don’t depend on the brain may disappear for some time. This is known as spinal shock and it is the temporary depression or loss of all or most of the reflexes that are below the level of the spinal cord injury. With time, however, the reflexes that were lost as a result of the traumatic event will return.

Autonomic Dysreflexia

Now, if you go back to my definition of what reflexes are, you’ll notice that nowhere does it mention anything about only hands and feet being involved. You have organ systems in your body that depend on reflexes in order to function correctly. These reflexes, known as autonomic reflexes, control everything from digestion to blood pressure and heart rate.

In serious cases of spinal cord injury, something known as autonomic dysreflexia may appear. This is a syndrome that typically affects people with damage to the spinal cord above the sixth thoracic vertebrae, resulting in a potentially life-threatening condition. In individuals who have a spinal cord injury at the locations I mentioned, something relatively innocent may trigger a serious reaction. For instance, when your bladder becomes full, signals are sent to the spinal cord and then to your brain to tell you about this, causing you to urinate and deflate the bladder in the process.In people with a spinal cord injury, the signal traveling from the bladder to the brain never gets through. This results in your sympathetic nervous systems, a part of the autonomic system, to begin firing off chemicals that cause the blood pressure to rise and, reflexively, the heart rate to slow down. As you can tell, your reflexes may help you get away from a hot stove, but in cases of spinal cord injury, may end up hurting you as in the case of autonomic dysreflexia.

Lesson Summary

Recall that the way by which a spinal cord may be traumatized varies greatly. It can be damaged by physical, chemical, or infectious trauma. The end result of any of these methods leads to the inability of the spinal cord to properly send and receive information by way of nerve cells. However, sensation and motor movement of your muscles aren’t the only things that may be affected in spinal cord trauma. Reflexes may be affected as well. Reflexes are involuntary and almost instantaneous movements of or within the body that try to return the body to a state of normalcy as a result of a stimulus.

In serious cases of spinal cord injury, such as complete severance of it, even reflexes that don’t depend on the brain may disappear for some time. This is known as spinal shock and it is the temporary depression or loss of all or most of the reflexes that are below the level of the spinal cord injury. With time, however, the reflexes that were lost as a result of the traumatic event will return.In addition, spinal cord injury may also result in something known as autonomic dysreflexia. This is a syndrome that typically affects people with damage to the spinal cord above the sixth thoracic vertebrae, resulting in a potentially life-threatening condition.

This condition may cause your sympathetic nervous systems, a part of the autonomic system, to begin firing off chemicals that cause the blood pressure to rise and, reflexively, the heart rate to slow down.

Learning Outcomes

After you’ve reviewed this video lesson, you could be able to:

  • State the causes and effects of spinal cord trauma
  • Remember what reflexes are and why spinal shock occurs
  • Describe autonomic dysreflexia
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