Spinal cord injuries are some of the most catastrophic injuries you can suffer. They will leave you with partial or total paralysis below the level of the damage. You will also lose at least some of your touch sensations.
As a result, you will have profound disabilities after suffering from tetraplegia. You will lose at least some ability to use all four of your limbs. Depending on the level of your injury, you may even lose the ability to breathe without assistance.
How Does Your Spinal Cord Function?
Your brain controls your entire nervous system. But it needs nerves to carry signals to your muscles and organs. Your cranial nerves connect your brain to your head, face, throat, and vital organs. Your spinal cord connects your brain to everything else, including your limbs, chest, and abdomen.
The spine is composed of 24 vertebrae. You have seven cervical vertebrae in your neck, 12 thoracic vertebrae attached to your ribs, and five lumbar vertebrae in your lower back. The spine provides structure to your back while still allowing your body to bend and twist.
The spinal cord travels through the spinal canal. This gap in the spine protects the nerves of the spinal cord. The spinal cord contains 31 pairs of nerves, with each pair containing one nerve for each side of the body. A pair of nerves exit the spine above and below each vertebra.
The spinal nerves branch into nerve roots after exiting the spine. These nerve roots carry all the signals to and from a body region such as your shoulders or feet. The nerve roots further branch into peripheral nerves that connect to muscles, organs, and skin. In your skin, the nerve endings detect touch sensations like temperature, texture, and pressure.
What Are Some Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries?
Spinal cord injuries like tetraplegia happen when the nerves of the spinal cord get severed. The nerves carry nerve signals using a combination of electrical and chemical signals. When they get severed, nerve cells lose contact and cannot transmit signals to each other.
This type of nerve damage happens in two primary ways:
A foreign object can pierce the spine and enter the spinal canal. There, it can sever some or all of the nerves passing through that level. For example, in an assault with a knife, the blade can slice between the vertebrae and sever the nerves of the spinal cord.
Penetrating injuries can also happen in accidents. A piece of glass or metal could lodge in your spine when you land on it after getting ejected during a motorcycle accident.
When you suffer a blow to the back or severe stress on your spine, one or more vertebrae can fracture. The broken pieces of a vertebra can dislocate into the spinal canal and lacerate the spinal nerves.
This injury can happen in almost any severe accident. Some causes of a broken spine include car accidents, falls, and falling objects.
Types of Tetraplegia
Tetraplegia happens when your spinal cord gets severed in your neck.
The nerves at this level include those running to your:
- Shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers
- Chest muscles
- Abdominal muscles
- Hips, legs, feet, and toes
As a result, an injury at this level of your spine will affect all four limbs, your chest, and your abdomen. The prefix “tetra” means four, and it refers to the loss of functioning in all four limbs.
The severity of your symptoms will depend on two factors:
Complete or Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury
A complete spinal cord injury happens when all the nerves in your spinal cord get severed. As a result, you will lose all control and sensation below the level of the injury.
An incomplete spinal cord injury happens when only some nerves are severed. This type of injury leaves you with some functions below the injury. But the exact functions that you have will depend on which nerves remain intact.
Many patients with incomplete spinal cord injuries retain some motor control and sensations below the injury. Thus, instead of losing all sensation in your legs, they may instead feel numb and tingly. And you may still have some ability to move them, although they may feel weak.
An incomplete injury might also allow you to regain some function. Nerves do not heal or regrow. But your brain can reconstruct its body map to shift some lost functions to the intact nerves. With therapy, you may recover some motor control and sensations over time.
Level of the Injury
The cervical spine has seven vertebrae numbered C1 through C7. Eight pairs of nerves exit the cervical spine. The first pair of nerves exit between the skull and C1 vertebra. The bottom pair of nerves exit below the C7 vertebra.
Generally speaking, higher injuries cause more severe symptoms. A spinal cord injury at the C1 through C4 levels could cause death. The nerves at these levels control the chest muscles that enable breathing. When they get severed, your respiration stops immediately.
If you survive your injury, you may have profound disabilities, including:
- Loss of sensation and motor ability in all four limbs, chest, and abdomen
- Inability to breathe unassisted
- Inability to cough or clear your throat
- Loss of bowel and bladder control
Lower injuries may allow for greater functionality in your limbs. For example, an injury at the C5 level may leave you with some ability to move your shoulders and breathe on your own. An injury at C6 may give you some arm movement. An injury at C7 or C8 may leave you with some wrist, hand, and finger movement, although you may experience weakness and loss of dexterity.
What Compensation Might Be Available For Tetraplegia Victims in Florida?
The compensation you can recover in a personal injury claim will depend on your losses. These losses fall into two broad categories. Economic damages represent the financial costs of your injury. They include lost income, diminishment in earning capacity, and medical expenses.
After suffering tetraplegia, you will experience significant economic losses. You may lose your ability to work. As a result, you will never earn the wages or salary you would have earned over your lifetime.
Additionally, you will need expensive medical treatment and physical therapy for the rest of your life. Depending on the severity of your injury, you will also need a full-time caretaker.
You can also recover compensation for non-economic damages. These losses represent the reduction in your quality of life. Tetraplegia will produce mental anguish and significant disabilities. You can seek compensation for both of these types of non-economic losses.
Tetraplegia is devastating. Contact our experienced lawyers from Allen Law Firm, P.A. at (877) 511-5235 for a free consultation to discuss the spinal cord injury suffered by you or a loved one and the compensation you can seek for it.