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Can a car crash paralyze you?

If you are a Wisconsin resident who fears that winter will never release its grip on our state this year, you are not alone. Unfortunately, your days of snow shoveling and driving on icy and snowy streets and roads do not appear to be over yet. This, in turn, puts you at even more risk than usual of becoming involved in a motor vehicle crash. Even more unfortunately, a car crash could easily paralyze you, confining you to a wheelchair for the rest of your life.

To understand the consequences of a spinal cord injury, you must first understand your spinal cord and spine. The Mayfield Clinic explains that your spinal cord is only 18 inches long and goes from your brainstem to your first lumbar vertebra. Then it branches out to your tailbone and from thence to your lap and feet. As for your spine, 33 vertebrae make it up. They reside in five distinct regions of your back as follows:

  1. Cervical region: 7 vertebrae between your brain's base and your neck's base
  2. Thoracic region: 12 vertebrae between your neck's base and right above your waist
  3. Lumbar region: 5 vertebrae between your waist and the lower end of your lumbar curve
  4. Sacral region: 5 vertebrae fused together in the lowest part of your back
  5. Coccyx region: 4 vertebrae fused together that make up your tailbone

Paraplegia versus tetraplegia

When you move, either voluntarily or involuntarily, it is because your brain has sent motor messages to the parts that move. When you touch or feel something, it is because the part of your body doing the touching or feeling has sent sensory messages to your brain. Thus, for purposes of both movement and sensation, your brain and nerves must have open communication channels. A spinal cord injury can sever these communication channels anywhere and everywhere below your point of injury.

For instance, an injury to your thoracic or lumbar region can result in paraplegia; i.e., your legs and feet becoming paralyzed. Not only can you not move or feel them, you may also be unable to move or feel your hips and abdomen. In all likelihood, you also cannot control your bladder and bowel.

An injury to your cervical region usually results in tetraplegia, formerly called quadriplegia, a more severe form of paralysis in which you cannot move or feel your arms, hands and the majority of your torso in addition to your abdomen, hips, legs and feet. You likely will require constant care and may even need a respirator in order to breathe.

This is general educational information and not intended to provide legal advice.

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