Saturday, January 21, 2012

Your Spine Is Part Of Your Body's Communication Center by Nick Messe

Without any effort on your part, your heart quietly and systematically beats. Your stomach digests your evening meal with no voluntary help from you. And, by the same token, your spinal cord provides the structure and neurological information that enables you to move with ease and to take full advantage of your sense of touch. In many cases, it is only when you sustain an injury to your spinal cord that you even stop to wonder what it is, how it works, and what you can do to restore it to health.

Approximately the diameter of a human finger, the spinal cord is connected to your brain and extends down your back. It is surrounded by a protective substance called cerebral spinal fluid and is encased in the vertebral column. Millions of tiny nerve fibers combine to form it, acting as transmitters of information to and from the brain to all the various parts of the body. The spinal cord is responsible for transmitting such vital data as joint position, pain, touch, and body temperature to the brain.

In addition, it carries messages from the brain having to do with the initiation of movement and the controlling of body functions. Day and night, your spinal cord is absolutely essential to your interactions with the world, your physical movements, and your very survival.

It is only when spinal injury occurs that we become truly aware of the central role it plays in our lives. Traumatic injury happens when one or more of your vertibrae are ruptured, compressed, or otherwise damaged as the result of a severe blow, or when the spinal cord is penetrated or severed by a knife blade or gunshot. Automobile accidents and assaults are the most common causes of traumatic spinal cord injury.

Nontraumatic injuries can occur as a result of cancer or other illnesses, arthritis, infection or inflammation or disk degeneration. No matter what the cause, a person is left with damage to nerves that might correspond with motion or sensation. When serious, the consequences can be devastating.

Some minor injuries only require rest and time in order to heal. More severe ones, however, are only alleviated by spinal surgery. As medical technology continues to advance, these procedures are becoming less invasive and more effective. Unfortunately, damage to the spinal cord cannot be reversed. However, the goal of spinal surgery is to prevent further damage and to give the patient the tools to regain as much physical and sensory functioning as possible.

If an accident occurs, it is vital that the patient receive medical care immediately. Usually, medical personnel will immobilize the neck and spine and transport the patient to intensive care for a full evaluation. In certain acute cases, a drug called Methylprednisolone (Medrol) is prescribed. When given during the first eight hours, it can reduce spinal cord inflammation and nerve damage.

During the weeks and months of recovery, a patient will receive attention from an interdisciplinary team of therapists and rehabilitation professionals. Whether injury is major or minor and whether or not back surgery is ultimately recommended, the importance of the doctor-patient relationship cannot be overemphasized. It is vital that you trust and communicate well with your spine doctors. After all, your spinal cord is an indispensable part of who you are.