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Did Your Newborn Suffer Cerebral
Palsy or Another Brain Injury Before
or During Labor and Delivery?

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Our Birth Brain Injury Resource Guide

the guide

Get a FREE guide of resources available throughout Ohio to children and families of children who were born with brain injuries.

Our guide can help you build a foundation of knowledge and tools that will help you help your child
now and in the future.

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Ohio Birth Injuries Spinal Cord Injury Complete Versus Incomplete Spinal Injuries

Finding out that your newborn child has sustained a spinal injury during the birthing process can be devastating. The implications of these types of injuries can be life-long, affecting not only your new child but the rest of your family as well. Having a thorough understanding of what spinal cord injuries are and how they can help alleviate some of the anxiety over what happens next and how you may choose to move forward.

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Spinal Cord Basics

The spinal cord (SC) is a bundle of nerves that runs from the brain to the base of your spine. Your spine is the bony structure that encloses the spinal column and is composed of a series of vertebrae, separated by intervertebral discs, which provide space for your nerves to exit the spinal column and enervate other parts of your body. The spine is divided up into sections, which include:

Elk & Elk
  • cervical spine – the neck area where SC is the thickest because it contains all of the nerves that control the body
  • thoracic spine – the upper back area; nerves exit this area to control breathing, mobility, and other critical functions
  • lumbar spine – the lower back area; nerves control bowel and bladder functions, sexual function and other motor functions
  • sacrum – the pelvis; nerves control the lower extremities
  • coccyx – made up of four fused vertebrae at the very bottom of your spine; does not contain spinal nerves

Because the spinal nerves exit the SC as it passes down through the spine, the higher the SC injury, the more serious the consequences of the injury.

How Birth-Related Spinal Cord Injuries Happen

In some birth situations, the infant can be positioned in a manner that can make passage through the birth canal difficult to impossible. At this point, if the doctor fails to intervene, either with forceps, vacuum suction or by ordering a cesarean section delivery, a birth injury may occur. Too much traction or rotational pressure on the SC can cause severe injury to the spinal column. Alternatively, if the doctor intervenes and does so improperly, spinal injuries can occur from the misuse of the birth tools.

Complete vs. Incomplete Spinal Injuries

Spinal injuries are generally divided into two categories: complete or incomplete. When an SC injury is complete, it means that nerves are completely severed, halting the nerve’s ability to send messages to and from the brain and the body below the injury. For example, if the spinal column is severed at the lumbar level, the victim will likely lose function and feeling in the lower extremities. The victim may also lose the ability to control bladder and bowel function. If the injury is high enough, such as in the cervical spine, the victim may lose the ability to breathe on his or her own.

On the other hand, an incomplete SC injury affects the brain’s ability to communicate nerve impulses to the body below the injury. An incomplete spinal injury leaves some sensation in the body below the injury site and may result in some pain, weakness, and lack of control. For example, a partial SC injury at the thoracic level may lead to pain, weakness, and lack of control of the victim’s legs, bladder and bowel functions.

In all cases, paraplegia, tetraplegia or quadriplegia may result.

Regardless of the level of the injury, the victim may need treatment and care for the rest of his or her lifetime.