Traumatic Brain & Spinal Injuries
Traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury are often caused by accidents. Many times, these injuries result from motor vehicle accidents. They can also be caused by a variety of other accidents, like falls, sports-related accidents, boating mishaps, accidental shootings, ATV, snowmobile, and bicycle accidents.
Traumatic Brain Injury
The brain serves as the control center for a variety of conscious activities, such as talking and walking, as well as unconscious body activities, like breathing and heart rate. A brain injury can disrupt some or all body activities. Depending on the severity of the injury, the effects can be devastating.
Traumatic brain injury can result from a fracture or a penetration of the skull. Damage to the brain may occur at the time the head impacts a hard surface. It may also occur later because of swelling and bleeding into the brain or bleeding around the brain.
Traumatic brain injury can also result from a “closed head injury.” In such a case, there is no penetration of the skull. Often times, there are no obvious signs of external damage. A closed head injury often occurs when there is a rapid acceleration or deceleration of the head, like in the case of shaken baby syndrome. Closed head injuries usually result in more widespread damage to the brain and, therefore, cause more extensive neurological defects.
Possible effects of traumatic brain injury
You don’t have to be in a coma to suffer a traumatic brain injury. You can be conscious and have suffered a traumatic brain injury. In this case, you may exhibit one or more of the following effects:
- Impaired cognitive or thinking functions, including difficulties with reading and writing
- Limited concentration
- Memory loss
- Behavior changes, including fatigue, mood swings, sexual dysfunction
- Lack of motivation and problems with interpersonal skills
- Loss of coordination
- Personality changes
- Impaired speech and/or vision
- Hearing loss
A person is considered “comatose” when he or she remains unconscious for a long period of time. The longer a person is comatose, the more severe the traumatic brain injury.
If you or someone you know hit their head in an accident and exhibits any of the above symptoms or any other unusual behavior, a traumatic brain injury may have been suffered. Even if you remotely suspect a traumatic brain injury, you should immediately go to an emergency room or see another health-care professional.
Spinal Cord Injury
The spinal cord is the largest nerve in the body. It is approximately 18 inches long and runs from the base of the brain, down the middle of the back, to the waist. The spinal cord is made up of nerve fibers. These nerve fibers are responsible for the body’s communication systems, which include sensory, motor, and autonomic functions. Sensory function means the ability to feel sensations, like pain. Motor function is the ability to voluntarily move your body. Autonomic functions are involuntary body functions, like the ability to sweat and breathe. Around the nerve fibers are protective bone segments called the vertebral column or the spinal column.
A spinal cord injury is any injury of the nerve elements within the spinal cord. Most spinal cord injuries result from trauma to the vertebral column. This can affect the spinal cord’s ability to send and receive messages from the brain to the parts of the body that control sensory, motor, and autonomic functions. The effect on the body depends on the location and severity of the spinal cord injury.
Usually, the nerves above the injury site continue to function normally, but the nerves below do not. A spinal cord injury can be “complete” or “incomplete.” A “complete” spinal cord injury is where the nerve damage obstructs all signals coming from the brain to the body parts below the injury site. An “incomplete” spinal cord injury is where the nerve damage only effects some of those signals. The closer the injury is to the brain, the greater the loss of feeling and function. A person with paraplegia has lost feeling and is unable to move the lower parts of the body. A person with tretraplegia (formerly known as quadriplegia) has lost feeling and is unable to move both the upper and lower parts of the body. In some cases, the spinal cord is only bruised or swollen and the nerves may begin to work again.
Like traumatic brain injury, the leading causes of spinal cord injuries are motor vehicle crashes, falls, and sport-related accidents, especially diving. The key to cutting down on these horrific injuries is through prevention.