Dan Burden: Complexity of spine means injuries effects can vary

THE spine is divided into three different areas, each designated by a letter and each specific vertebrae given a number.

The first area is known as the cervical spine, which is your neck; it has seven vertebrae.

Any injury to the spinal cord there will result in paralysis of all four limbs to varying degrees. The higher up the neck you go, the more severe are the effects of the paralysis.

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The thoracic spine – referred to as "T" – relates to the vertebrae attached to a rib.

Below that, you have the lumbar spine – the vertebrae that stand free.

Damage to both of these areas is quite similar in that they result in paralysis of the lower limbs only. The level of the injury corresponds to what you can move and feel.

If someone suffers paralysis of two limbs, then we call them a paraplegic.

It is very difficult to say how injuries will affect different people.

Essentially the spinal cord is part of the brain and any damage that occurs is very complex.

There are two types of injury, known as "complete" and "incomplete".

In a complete injury there is no movement or feeling below the level of injury. In an incomplete case, there could be anything. They may be able to feel a toe or a knee cap, or they might be able to stand and walk around.

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In the early days, it can be hard to tell what the results are going to be.

Medical advances in treating patients at the scene of their accident and when they get to hospital have helped mitigate the effects of a spinal injury in some cases.

It can be some time before the full impact of an injury is known and the recovery process can be slow, but people can often go back to doing many of the things they did before their accident, such as employment, sports and leisure activities and raising families.

• Dan Burden works for the Spinal Injuries Association, which offers support and assistance for people affected by spinal injury and their families.