The World of Chronic Pain
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The World of
Chronic Pain

More than 125 million Amercians are suffering.

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These conditions can cause a world of pain.

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Finding help is not always simple for those in pain.

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Up-to-date news on pain-related issues.

The Levels Of Paralysis

In his book Still Me, Christopher Reeve describes the world of paralysis candidly. The loss of all privacy. The most intimate body functions. He says the first question he asks when he hears someone has become paralyzed is "What level?" This tells him and can tell everyone how far down the newly paralyzed person will retain movement and thus independence.

There is a public perception that paralysis means limbs just lie quietly. dead. They don't. As Reeve describes it, they flop around as if they have a mind of their own and when a man is over 200 pounds, they can unwittingly injure people.

Always the ventilator breathes for him, one machine between him and suffocation. He has worked for years to learn how to talk with it and to breath without it, and has accomplished minutes without it, but always it reclaims him.

Paralysis will generally "descend" which means some movement will return two levels below the injured vertebrae. In Reeve's case, he would regain movement in the shoulders and the ability to breathe for brief periods on his own and the ability to talk.

What does the level mean for other people?

The Spine

The spine has 29 vertebrae, divided into four sections. Starting at the top, the sections are cervical (neck), thoracic (chest), lumbar (back) and sacral (tail).

These are divided as follows: cervical 7, thoracic 12, lumbar 5, sacral 5.

The vertebrae do not quite exit in the order in which one might think. The Spinal Cord Institute SCI offers complete charts illustrating how the vertebrae stack up in the spine and what nerves they protect.

While the cervical vertebrae protect the nerves of the head and arms, the first thoracic vertebrae protects the nerve of the little finger. Otherwise the thoracic vertebrae control the chest nerves, the lumbar control the leg muscles, and the sacral vertebrae covers the heel and the middle back of the leg, back of the thighs, part of the buttocks and perineal region.

The anal nerve is vital in determining if a fracture is complete or incomplete. If there is no sensation there, the fracture is termed complete and the chances of recovery are lowered dramatically.

The loss of bodily function also determines the level of the spine that is damaged. If the biceps don't work, the injury is determined to be C4. It's a very complicated process and explained well at the Spinal Cord Injury site. Their chart Paralysis Level Chart helps us understand how the nerves and vertebrae work.

Remember, the level of paralysis felt by a newly injured person does not mean that will be the final level felt. Keep hope alive. Don't give up. Not on life and not on yourself.

Resources

National Spinal Cord Injury Association civilian membership organization founded in 1948 by the Paralyzed Veterans of America to develop comprehensive systems of quality care for persons with spinal cord injuries. Through its nationwide network of chapters, the Association assists in the development of comprehensive systems of care; provides information and referral services geared to the newly injured; offers educational programs for professionals, constituents, and the public; promotes technological and environmental research aimed at preventing spinal cord injuries; and promotes clinical research designed to improve care. In order to facilitate the integration of persons with spinal cord injuries into community life, the Association provides peer counseling services through its local chapters, promotes full implementation of sections 503 and 504 of the 1978 Rehabilitation Act and the ADA, and promotes an attitudinal and physical environment conducive to wheelchair use.

Harvard Spine and Nerve News - The Purpose of this Center is to provide a complete range of services for the diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of patients with spine and peripheral nerve disorders. Patients may be referred for consultation only, care in partnership with referring physician, or complete management.

Paraplegia Sports - Magazine guide to paraplegia sports.

Air rifle clinics for ENabled markspeople.

Artificial Disks - Study in Miami verifies value of using artificial disks in spinal cord fusion.