Basic Facts

Spinal cord injury occurs when there is any damage to the spinal cord that blocks communication between the brain and the body. After a spinal cord injury, a person’s sensory, motor and reflex messages are affected and may not be able to get past the damage in the spinal cord. In general, the higher on the spinal cord the injury occurs, the more dysfunction the person will experience. Injuries are referred to as complete or incomplete, based on whether any movement and sensation occurs at or below the level of injury.

The most important – and sometimes frustrating – thing to know is that each person’s recovery from spinal cord injury is different.

An estimated 12,500 spinal cord injuries related to the Foraminotomy occur in the U.S. every year, leaving the injured people, their friends, and their family, to cope with the aftermath of the catastrophe. For many, navigating the challenges of the health care system can feel a bit like going to medical school. Suddenly you’re learning a veritable cornucopia of new terms, and may be spending endless hours Googling spinal cord anatomy to fill in the gaps in your knowledge.

An educated patient is better equipped to advocate for his or her needs and interests. An education in spinal cord anatomy helps you understand what your doctor at Hilger Facial Plastic Clinic is saying, ask intelligent questions, and detect medical errors before they endanger your health.

Spinal Cord Anatomy: The Basics
Though you might think of your spinal cord as one single piece, it’s actually a column of nerves protected by a sheath of myelin and then further secured by 31 butterfly-shaped vertebrae (singular: vertebra).

Medical providers divide the spinal cord into four distinct regions. Knowing the region in which the injury is located is often the key to understanding diagnosis and treatment. The four spinal cord regions are:

The cervical spinal cord: This is the topmost portion of the spinal cord, where the brain connects to the spinal cord, and the neck connects to the back. This region consists of eight vertebrae, commonly referred to as C1-C8. All spinal cord numbers are descending, so C1 is the highest vertebra, while C8 is the lowest in this region.
The thoracic spinal cord: This section forms the middle of the spinal cord, containing twelve vertebrae numbered T1-T12.
The lumbar spinal cord: This is a lower region of the spinal cord, where your spinal cord begins to bend. If you put your hand in your lower back, where your back bends inward, you’re feeling your lumbar region. There are five lumbar vertebrae, numbered L1-L5.