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A free resource that provides access to information and support for individuals and families living with developmental disabilities.
Spinal Cord Injury and Paralysis
To find patient care programs and faculty treating spinal cord injury and paralysis at Kennedy Krieger Institute, as well as research investigating this disorder, please see the right-hand column below. Additional helpful information, including definitions, symptoms, Institute press releases, Potential magazine articles, and other resources outside the Institute, have also been provided for readers on this page.
Spinal Cord Injury and Paralysis Overview:
Spinal cord injury (SCI) occurs when a traumatic event results in damage to cells within the spinal cord or severs the nerve tracts that relay signals up and down the spinal cord.
The most common types of SCI include contusion (bruising of the spinal cord) and compression (caused by pressure on the spinal cord). Other types of injuries include lacerations (severing or tearing of some nerve fibers) and central cord syndrome (specific damage to the corticospinal tracts of the cervical region of the spinal cord). Severe SCI often causes a loss of sensation and reflex function below the point of injury, including autonomic activity such as breathing and other activities such as bowel and bladder control. Other symptoms, such as pain or sensitivity to stimuli, muscle spasms and sexual dysfunction may develop over time. SCI patients are also prone to develop secondary medical problems, such as bladder infections, lung infections and bed sores.
The types of disability associated with SCI vary greatly depending on the severity of the injury, the segment of the spinal cord at which the injury occurs and which nerve fibers are damaged. Most people with SCI regain some functions between one week and six months after injury, but the likelihood of spontaneous recovery diminishes after six months. Rehabilitation strategies can minimize long-term disability.