Can a car crash paralyze you?

Monday January 14, 2019

Now that winter has once again enveloped Connecticut, driving hazards have increased and so has your risk of suffering serious or even catastrophic injuries in a car crash. They could be particularly debilitating if they affect your neck and/or back.

As you probably know, your spinal cord descends from the base of your brain to your tailbone. Its nerves consequently give you the ability to move the various parts of your body. They also allow you to feel sensation and pain. Furthermore, they allow your body to maintain itself by breathing, digesting food and eliminating waste. Needless to say, if you sever your spinal cord in a car crash, your injury could paralyze you and confine you to a wheelchair for the rest of your life.

Four spinal cord regions

As explained by the Travis Roy Foundation, how much of your body could become paralyzed, and to what extent, depends on which of the following four regions sustains spinal cord injury:

  1. Your back’s cervical region that contains the seven vertebrae located between the base of your brain and the bottom of your neck
  2. Your back’s thoracic region that contains the twelve vertebrae located between the bottom of your neck and your waist
  3. Your lumbar region that contains the five vertebrae located between your waist and your lower back
  4. Your sacral region that contains the five vertebrae located between your lower back and your coccyx, a/k/a tailbone

Paraplegia versus quadriplegia

Given that your spinal cord nerves control the movement and sensation that occur below them, it stands to reason that the higher up your injury, the more extensive paralysis you will suffer. For instance, an injury to your lumbar or sacral region likely will render you a paraplegic with little or no ability to move or feel your legs or feet, plus whatever portion of your trunk the nerves in that region controlled.

In comparison, an injury to your cervical or thoracic region likely will render you a quadriplegic with little or no ability to move or feel any part of your body below your head. In other words, not only will you be unable to walk, you will also need the constant care of others to eat, drink, bathe, get from your wheelchair to your bed and back again, or even scratch your nose when it itches.

With either paraplegia or quadriplegia, you likely will lose control of your bowel and bladder. In a quadriplegic situation, you might even need the constant support of a mechanical ventilator in order to breathe. You may also discover that your ability to speak has become greatly compromised.

This is educational information only, and not intended as legal advice.

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