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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Overview of spinal injuries


If you suspect that someone has a back or neck injury:

Nerves carry messages from your brain to other parts of your body along your spinal cord.

Your spinal cord runs from the top of your neck at the base of your skull to your tail bone. The bones in your spine protect your spinal cord.

There are about 200 new spinal cord injuries a year in New Zealand. The spinal cord can be injured by an accident (70%) or by an illness (30%) like an infection or tumour.

About 73% of accidental (traumatic) spinal cord injuries happen to men. The most common types of accident to cause a spinal injury are falls (42%), vehicle accidents (27%) and sports (19%).

A spinal injury is when your spinal cord is damaged leading to a loss of function. This loss of function can be loss of strength, loss of feeling (sensation) or both.

The parts of the body affected by this are those controlled by the nerves in the spine below the level (position in the spine) of the injury.

The level of the injury is really important as it determines which body areas are affected. The lowest level of the cord that is undamaged is called the neurological level.

Injuries are also classified as how severe they are:

You might also hear these names to describe the type of paralysis:

If the spinal cord is completely cut, the damage is usually permanent. In other types of spinal injury, the cord might recover.

With the right help, most people with a spinal cord injury can lead full and independent lives. They can work and join in many recreational activities.

On the next page: Diagnosing spinal injuries

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Page created December 2023.


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