What Is an Acute Spinal Cord Injury?

The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that carries messages between the brain and the rest of the body.

Acute spinal cord injury (SCI) is due to a traumatic injury that can either result in a bruise (also called a contusion), a partial tear, or a complete tear (called a transection) in the spinal cord. About 250,000 to 400,000 individuals in the US have a spinal cord injury. About 60 percent of these cases are 30 years old or younger.

SCI results in a decreased or absence of movement, sensation, and body organ function below the level of the injury. The most common sites of injury are the cervical and thoracic areas. SCI is a common cause of permanent disability and death in children and adults.

Anatomy of the spine

The spine consists of 33 vertebrae, including the following:

  • 7 cervical (neck)
  • 12 thoracic (upper back)
  • 5 lumbar (lower back)
  • 5 sacral (sacrum - located within the pelvis)
  • 4 coccygeal (coccyx - located within the pelvis)

By adulthood, the 5 sacral vertebrae fuse to form one bone, and the 4 coccygeal vertebrae fuse to form one bone.

These vertebrae function to stabilize the spine and protect the spinal cord. In general, the higher in the spinal column the injury occurs, the more dysfunction a person will have.

Injury to the vertebrae does not always mean the spinal cord has been damaged. Likewise, damage to the spinal cord itself can occur without fractures or dislocations of the vertebrae.

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that evaluate a new medical approach, device, drug, or other treatment. As a Stanford Hospital & Clinics patient, you have access to the latest, advanced clinical trials.

Open trials refer to studies currently accepting participants. Closed trials are not currently enrolling, but may open in the future.

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