How Does a Spinal Cord Injury Affect the Nervous System?

Your spinal cord is the messenger system for the nervous system. Signals from the brain are directed down the spine, which then carries these signals throughout the body. As such, an injury can have devastating effects on the nervous system. There are many different parts of the nervous system, all connected to other systems in the body, and they can each be affected uniquely, depending on the location of the injury.

One of the most important factors in a spinal cord injury is the “completeness.” If there is no movement or feeling below the injury, it’s considered a complete injury. That’s because there is no signal going past that part of the spine, and therefore the brain cannot connect with the intended body part. If there is movement or feeling, it is an incomplete injury.

Here’s a quick rundown of the different sections of your spinal cord:

  • Cervical curve: Base of the skull to the shoulder, controls head and neck, diaphragm, biceps and wrists
  • Thoracic curve: From the shoulders to the bottom of the ribs, controls the chest muscles, hands, triceps and abdominal muscles
  • Lumbar curve: Bottom of the ribs to “tailbone,” Controls leg muscles
  • Sacral curve: Referred to as the “tailbone,” controls bowels, bladder and sexual function

Different parts of the spinal cord are also in charge of the skin and autonomic functions like breathing, internal temperature control and heartbeat.