Tetraplegia (paralysis in the arms, hands, trunk, legs and pelvic organs) or paraplegia (paralysis of all or part of the trunk, legs and pelvic organs) will change your life and bring new challenges.
Thankfully, technological advances mean that increasingly there are aids and equipment which can help people who suffer the long-term effects of a spinal cord injury.
What is the spinal cord?
The spinal cord is made of soft tissue containing nerve cells which go to different parts of the body.
At the upper end it is attached to the brain and together they make up the central nervous system. At the lower end, below the spinal cord, there are nerve roots called the cauda equina.
The cord is protected by bones called vertebrae. There are four elements making up the bony spine: the cervical spine (neck), the thoracic spine (upper and middle back), the lumbar spine (lower back) and sacral region (base).
The vertebrae are described by a letter and a number. The cervical spine is described as C1 to C7, thoracic spine T1 to T12, lumbar L1 to L5, and sacral region S1 to S5. The spinal cord ends in the lumbar spine.
What is a spinal cord injury?
There are two types of spinal cord injuries – traumatic and non-traumatic.
A traumatic spinal cord injury can occur from a sudden blow to the spine that breaks, dislocates, crushes, or compresses one or more vertebrae. It can also result from any other impact that cuts your spinal cord.
A non-traumatic spinal cord injury can be caused by an illness such as cancer, arthritis, inflammation, infections, or disc degeneration.
Impact of a spinal cord injury
Symptoms of spinal cord injury depend on the severity of injury and its location on the spinal cord. According to the World Health Organization, symptoms may include partial or complete loss of sensory function or motor control of arms, legs and/or body.
The most severe spinal cord injury affects the systems that regulate bowel or bladder control, breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. Many people with spinal cord injury suffer chronic pain.
Spinal cord injury is associated with a risk of developing secondary conditions that can be debilitating and life changing, such as deep vein thrombosis, urinary tract infections, muscle spasms, osteoporosis, pressure ulcers, chronic pain, and respiratory complications.
How compensation can help
Money can never make up for the loss of use of the spinal cord, but it can help provide for the cost of private medical treatment, support services and aids and equipment to make life easier and to assist with a return to usual activities where possible. In legal terms, we call these heads of loss and in cases concerning spinal cord injuries they can include (but are not limited to):
- Compensation for loss of pain, suffering and loss of amenity (or enjoyment)
- Costs of domestic care and support
- Private treatment and rehabilitation costs
- Adapting accommodation
- Aids and equipment
The heads of loss (the term "head" is used to mean "category - i.e., the categories of damage that a party may incur) will vary and must be investigated and assessed on an individual and case by case basis.
Appropriate assistive devices can enable people to perform everyday activities they would not otherwise be able to undertake, reducing functional limitations and dependency. These can include walking frames, crutches, hand bike, canes, and adapted shoes, as well as adapted vehicles.
As technology has become more sophisticated there are greater options in terms of aids and equipment to help people with spinal injuries, including specialist beds, full-electric, semi-electric, and manual beds, with mattresses which reduce pressure.
Powered and sports wheelchairs are increasingly sophisticated and helpful if the patient cannot propel a manual wheelchair.
IT and communications equipment have also advanced. Environmental control devices can help patients switch on lights, answer the telephone, open and close doors and windows.
Head, eye and mouth-controlled computers, voice recognition software and other technology can give patients the ability to email friends and family, shop online, work and conduct banking and other administration.
Sumit Morjaria, a specialist serious injury solicitor in Shoosmiths’ Birmingham office, says:
“Every case involving a spinal cord injury is different, but the goal is always to assist clients recover sufficient compensation to enable them to live as independently as possible. Depending on the extent of the injury, whether caused by medical negligence or an accident, we assemble a specialist team of independent experts, including nursing care experts, occupational therapists and physiotherapists to assess our clients.”
Sumit adds: “Our experts consider our client’s past, present and future requirements and create a tailored needs assessment based on the expert medical evidence. What makes Shoosmiths different is our collaborative approach, attention to detail and keeping the client at the very heart of everything we do.”
This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2023