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Spinal Cord Injuries Awareness Day is held annually in May. It is an annual event run by the Spinal Injuries Association (SIA) and their charity partners. The aim of the day is to raise awareness and understanding the impact and effect of spinal cord injury told through personal stories of those affected.
This year the awareness day has a poignancy about it – with the country coming out of lockdown having spent 14 months coping with the challenges that come with a pandemic, it is a reminder that the challenges the wider community have encountered over the past year are common on-going challenges for those with a spinal cord injury. For example, difficulties in accessing specialist healthcare services at a time of need and restrictions on accessing the wider community.
Below I set out my thoughts from the perspective of a solicitor specialising in spinal injury caused by medical negligence. If an individual has acquired a spinal injury and is in need of a solicitor, what should they do?
The spinal cord
A spinal injury is a life changing event that can impact all aspects of an individual’s life from health and medical care, employment, family life and social interaction. The spinal cord runs from the brain to the pelvis and is protected by the spinal column. The spinal column is made up of vertebrae each separated by a disc and divided into four regions: cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral. There are a number of vertebrae within each region – 7 in the cervical spine, 12 thoracic, 5 lumbar and 5 sacral. Each spinal level is usually abbreviated. For example, an injury at the level of the fifth cervical vertebrae will be described as C5.
At every spinal level there is a pair of spinal nerves that exit the spinal cord on either side. These nerves control motor and sensory function and reflexes. The spinal cord is vulnerable but well protected. There are three layers protecting the spinal cord – the dura, arachnoid matter and pia matter. For there to be a spinal cord injury there is either compression of the spinal cord (usually caused by vertebral displacement, degeneration or slipped discs), spinal cord swelling (such as infection) or direct injury caused by a traumatic force (a violent fall, assault or a road traffic accident).
Classification of a spinal injury
The extent of injury and functional deficit depends on the level at which the spinal injury occurs. There is a universal classification system to identify spinal cord injuries devised by the American Association of Spinal Injuries (ASIA). The injury will be identified by the spinal level and assigned a category from A to E. An injury falling within category A will result in no motor or sensory function, category B is applicable where there is sensory but no motor function, C is where motor function is preserved and consists of movement against gravity (such as lifting a leg), D is slightly weaker than normal motor function and E normal neurological function.
Within the lumbar and sacral spine sits the cauda equina, a collection of nerve roots that control lower limb, bladder, bowel and sexual function. Cauda Equina Syndrome is a rare condition where the nerve roots of the cauda equina are compressed and cause impairment of lower limb motor function and disturbance to bowel, bladder and sexual function.
Rehabilitation & Support Organisations
Upon sustaining a spinal cord injury the individual will be admitted to one of the specialist spinal injury treatment centres across the country. Their injury will be classified using the ASIA scale and they will receive appropriate medical and therapeutic treatment. The individual will also be taught how to manage their condition and live with a newly acquired spinal injury. They will remain under the care of a spinal injury treatment centre on an outpatient basis.
An individual with a newly acquired spinal injury will be able to tap into the wealth of knowledge and experience collated by organisations such as the SIA, Cauda Equina UK and the Back Up Trust . These organisations have invaluable knowledge covering the financial implications of a spinal injury, equipment and medical issues, and the physical and psychological impact of living with such a devastating injury. Although such an injury is a life changing event it does not necessarily have to mean the end of a meaningful life. Indeed, the SIA’s key objective is to ensure there is ‘A fulfilled life for everyone affected by spinal cord injury.’
What if the spinal injury was negligently caused?
If litigation arises from a spinal injury then careful consideration needs to be given to the instruction of a solicitor experienced in this type of work. Key resources to assist with choosing a solicitor include:
Choosing a solicitor to represent you in connection with a spinal injury case will come down to personal choice and preference. Approach a number of solicitors, discuss your potential case, ask for their initial thoughts. By doing so have you built up a rapport with the solicitor, got a feel for the size of their firm and how cases run?
If you, or a member of your family, are affected by any of the issues covered in our blogs please contact one of our specialist spinal and back injury lawyers on email@example.com or call us on 0207 814 1200.
Richard Lodge is a Partner in the Medical Negligence and Personal Injury practice and has been recognised within the field of clinical/medical negligence within the Chambers UK and Legal 500 directories. He is an individually ranked lawyer for clinical negligence within Chambers UK, A Client’s Guide to the UK Legal Profession.
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