Spinal Cord Injury Glossary

Written by Edward C. Benzel, MD

Ambulate (ambulation): Walking movement

Anterior Cord Syndrome: The anterior spinal cord is the front section. Symptoms may be caused when this part of the cord is compressed by a bone fragment or when there is insufficient blood supply. Symptoms include functional (motor skills) and sensory loss (i.e., light touch, pinprick) below the injury level.

ASIA Score: Functional measurement after spinal cord injury. "A" means complete loss of function, whereas "E" is normal.

Atrophy: Muscle wasting, loss of muscle size

Autonomic Dysreflexia (AD): A serious and potentially life-threatening emergency associated with SCI. AD causes over-activity of the autonomic nervous system that disrupts communication between the body and brain above the injury level.

Autonomic nervous system: Governs involuntary actions such as heart rate and blood pressure.

Brown-SĂ©quard Syndrome: This syndrome affects one-half of the spinal cord; either the left or right side. If the right-hand side of the spinal cord is injured, symptoms affect the right side of the body; if the left-hand side is injured, symptoms affect the left side of the body. It is characterized by partial loss of function or impaired function.

Case Manager: The person who coordinates care with insurance carriers and equipment providers.

Central Cord Syndrome: The central spinal cord is the middle area. These nerve fibers are large and exchange information between the spinal cord and cerebral cortex (gray matter of the brain). The cerebral cortex is important to personality, interpreting sensation (feeling), and movement (motor function). The central spinal cord is important for hand and arm function, such as fine motor control (e.g., writing), although the lower body can be affected (e.g., loss of bladder control), too.

Complete SCI: Loss of all function (motor) and feeling (sensory) below the injury level equally affecting both sides of the body.

Demyelination: Occurs when the myelin, a membrane (sheath) covering nerves, is destroyed. Myelin is needed to help nerves communicate.

Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES): FES uses electrical current to activate nerves affected by paralysis. It is used to stimulate functions such as motor control, walking, arm and upper body movement, and urination. Stimulation can help prevent or manage pressure sores, provide chest and abdominal movement necessary for breathing / ventilator assistance, encourage return of movement, and control spasticity.

Hematoma: Localized semisolid mass of blood.

Incomplete SCI: Some function and feeling remains below the injury level and one side of the body has more function or feeling than the other.

Lesions: A wound or injury creating a change in tissues.

Methylprednisolone: A man-made synthetic corticosteroid drug. Corticosteroids are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs. It may be administered immediately after SCI and continued for 24 to 48 hours.

Motor: Response to a stimulus, such as a nerve signal, to a muscle to contract.

Myelogram: A diagnostic test to identify spinal cord lesions. The subarachnoid space of the spinal cord is injected with a contract medium, followed by x-rays.

Occupational Therapist: A professional who addresses the social, emotional, and functional aspects of an SCI patient's life. Their goal is to help the patient be independent.

Parastep® System: An ambulation assistance system that is combined with FES. It is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. Parastep helps patients stand and walk without bracing and helps them become more independent. It is a functional neuromuscular stimulation system controlled by a microcomputer. Stimulation is routed through skin electrodes.

Phrenic Nerve or Diaphragmatic Pacemaker: An experimental treatment to help patients breathe. It is sometimes called electrophrenic respiration.

Physiatrist: A medical doctor who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation.

Physical Therapist: A specialist who helps patients to restore function, improve mobility, and limit permanent physical disability. PT promotes fitness and health.

Proprioception: The sense of body position.

Psychologist: A doctor who offers patient and family support to help everyone adjust to change. Patients and their partners may receive sexual and/or family planning counseling.

Rehabilitation Nurse: A nurse specialist that helps to prevent complications and assists patients to be functional. They are a resource for patient advocacy, case management, counseling, and education.

Sensory: Relating to sensation: feeling, pressure, temperature.

Spasticity: Characterized by stiff or rigid muscles that make movement, such as walking or talking, difficult.

Speech and Language Pathologist: A therapist who assesses, diagnoses, and treats disorders related to speech, language, and cognition. This may include voice, swallowing, and fluency.

Spinal Cord: The spinal cord carries the nerves affecting body function. It is the pathway for impulses passing to and from the brain. The spinal cord is protected by cerebralspinal fluid and is surrounded by membranes, termed meninges, the dura mater, arachnoid, and pia mater. The gray matter, resembling a butterfly, is located in the center section of the cord. The gray matter is surrounded by myelinated (protective sheath) white matter composing the outer portion of the spinal cord.

Stem Cell: A cell with the potential to develop into different types of cells such as a muscle, nerve, blood, or brain cell. For stem cells to be useful, they must be able to reproduce in sufficient numbers, develop into the desired cell type, survive transplantation, and function without harm throughout a lifetime.

Tetraplegia (quadriplegia): Paralysis affecting all four limbs.

Therapeutic Hypothermia: Medically lowering body temperature to slow circulation, reduce inflammation, and control damage from injury (e.g., bleeding).

Therapeutic Recreational Specialist: A specialist who helps patients with physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Using activities such as arts and crafts, games, music, and outings, therapists help patients with depression and stress. Activities help build confidence and socialization skills.

Vocational Rehabilitation Therapist: Works with the patient's doctor on therapy directed toward work-related skills. After evaluating interests, skill sets, and current abilities, the therapist assists the patient to develop a return to work plan.

More spinal terms defined: General Spinal Glossary

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Symptoms of a Spinal Cord Injury