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Beware: A car crash can paralyze you

No one need tell you that winter driving in Colorado can be a bear at best. Snow-packed streets and roads and icy curves and intersections make driving hazardous, and unfortunately, the number of traffic accidents rises precipitously. The grievous injuries you could suffer should you become the victim of one include paralysis of part or virtually all of your body.

If you injure your neck or back as a result of your car crash, both your ability to move and your ability to feel sensation in your body could be severely compromised. To understand the catastrophic paralytic consequences of a neck or back injury, you must first understand how your spinal cord works.

Spinal cord regions

Your spinal cord extends from the base of your brain to the bottom of your body's trunk. The nerves it contains control your body's voluntary and involuntary movements and sensation, i.e., your ability to feel. How much paralysis you could suffer depends on which of the following four regions of your spinal cord you injure:

  1. Cervical region - seven vertebrae located between the base of your brain and the base of your neck
  2. Thoracic region - twelve vertebrae located between the base of your neck and your waist
  3. Lumbar region - five vertebrae located between your waist and your lower back
  4. Sacral region - five vertebrae located between your lower back and your coccyx, also called your tailbone

As you might expect, the higher up your spinal cord injury occurs, the more paralysis you suffer.

Paraplegia versus quadriplegia

In general, spinal cord injuries are classified into two categories: paraplegia and quadriplegia, also called tetraplegia. "Para" means two, and "quad" and "tetra" mean four. Therefore, should your car crash render you a paraplegic, this means that you will be unable to move your legs and feet and will retain little, if any, movement and sensation in them. Should your car crash render you a quadriplegic, this means that not only will you lose most if not all functionality in your legs and feet, but also in your arms, hands, and a good portion of your trunk.

Paraplegia and quadriplegia consequences

Both paraplegia and quadriplegia will consign you to life in a wheelchair. With paraplegia, at best you will only be able to walk with the aid of heavy leg braces and crutches. With both forms of paralysis you will lose virtually all of your ability to control your bladder and bowel functions. You also will have little or no sensation below your point of injury.

As stated, the higher up your spinal cord injury, the more catastrophic your paralysis. If you become a quadriplegic, you will be unable to do anything for yourself and will have to rely on others to feed you, bathe you, move you from your bed to your wheelchair and back again, and constantly change your position so that you do not develop pressure sores that could become life-threatening. In the most severe forms of quadriplegia, you will require mechanical ventilation in order to breath and you may have little, if any, ability to speak.

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