Spinal Cord Injury

Physiological Effects and Potential Treatments





This website, created by students as part of the Undergraduate Behavioral Neuroscience Resource Project run by Professor Eric P. Wiertelak at Macalester College, is intended to provide accurate and up-to-date information on the physiological damage that results from spinal cord injury, as well as the current state of drug treatments and regeneration research.  Each section builds upon the information in the previous sections, though the pages may be viewed in any order.



Thank you for visiting our website.  We hope it helps answer some of your questions about spinal cord injury, as well as prompts you to ask new ones.


- The Authors

Jacob Beckley, Elizabeth Nelson, Kate Saylor, and Anna Sutheim



After we reached the hospital, Hentz was hurried to the X-ray room. He laughed and joked with the young women in attendance; but even though they smiled I sensed their tension as they made the pictures. The doctor in the X-ray room studied the pictures when they were developed. He didn't speak to us, and when I asked what the pictures showed he said, "Your son's neck is broken." I knew that such an injury was nearly always fatal.

I asked, "Is there a chance for him to live?"

"Oh, yes," he answered.

When Hentz left the X-ray room he was taken to a semi-private room already occupied by a young policeman whose leg had been crushed. Hentz was not taken off the ambulance stretcher because the doctor didn't want him moved. He did not seem to be suffering; but before long a nurse came in and gave him a hypodermic.

The orthopedic surgeon was in the operating room and couldn't see Hentz, but he sent his assistant to examine him. I wondered what it meant when he asked Hentz to move his legs. Hentz couldn't move them. The doctor asked him to move his right arm. Hentz couldn't; but he could move his left arm a little, though he could not feel the pin pricks the doctor made all over his body. I didn't know the meaning of the pin. How many times later on I would watch doctors pin pricking my son's body and cry out to God to let him feel it!



Source: Houser, Harriet Hentz. Hentz, of Things not Seen. New York: The Macmillan  Company, 1955.



There are 247,000 people living with spinal cord injury in the USA, with 11,000 new cases per year.  Almost 80% of injuries occur in males.  The most common cause of spinal cord injury is motor vehicle accidents (50%), followed by falls (24%), violence (11%), and sports (9%).  Injuries result in complete quadriplegia/tetraplegia in 22% of cases, incomplete tetraplegia in 34% of cases, complete paraplegia in 25% of cases, and incomplete paraplegia in 18% of cases; complete recovery occurs in 1% of cases.  Depending upon age at injury and severity of injury, lifetime medical costs and other costs related to the injury may cost anywhere from $435,000 to $2,700,000.  Life expectancies are significantly reduced for people with spinal cord injury, and the most common causes of death related to SCI complications are renal failure, pneumonia, pulmonary emboli, and septicemia. 


Source: National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, Birmingham, Alabama website, 2004.