The Paralyzing Effects of Maritime Spinal Cord Injuries

Seamen and offshore workers have some of the most difficult and dangerous jobs in the world. The physical demands on the body that these workers must endure are sometimes overwhelming. When a maritime worker finds himself seriously injured, this can mean a devastating and abrupt end to his career and future financial security.

Not all maritime injuries lead to permanent disability. However, spinal cord injuries (SCI) are a very real threat for maritime workers and are almost guaranteed to put victims out of commission for several weeks…if not permanently.

Spinal Cord Injuries and Paralysis Risks

There are many different ways the spinal cord can be injured, and not all will leave an individual with an irreversible disability. A severely bruised spinal cord may cause temporary numbness and short-lived paralysis until the swelling subsides. However, more severe injuries such as lacerations of the cord or broken vertebrae can lead to the horrifying consequence of paralysis.

Two of the most terrifying words an injured offshore worker can hear are “paraplegia” and “quadriplegia” because that means not only is he seriously injured, but he will probably never walk again. To understand the severity of SCIs, you must first understand how the spinal cord works.

The spinal cord is essentially a communication highway of nerves that transmit orders from the brain to various parts of the body—and sensations from the body back to the brain. The spinal nerves are categorized into four sections, based on the distance from the top of the neck: cervical nerves (C), thoracic nerves (T), lumbar nerves (L), and sacral nerves (S).

  • Cervical nerves. The top of the spinal column—the first ten vertebrae—harbors the cervical nerves, which control the head, neck, diaphragm, deltoids, wrists, triceps, and hands. These are referred to as C1–C8, T1, and T2 (there is an overlap between cervical and thoracic nerves in the ninth and tenth vertebrae).
  • Thoracic nerves. The ninth through twentieth vertebrae harbor the thoracic nerves, which control the chest and abdominal muscles. These vertebrae and nerves are known as T1–T9, T10, T11, and T12.
  • Lumbar nerves. The next set of vertebrae (numbers 21-25) harbor the lumbar nerves, which control leg muscles. These vertebrae and nerves are numbered as L1–L5.
  • Sacral nerves. The twenty-sixth vertebrae down to the tail bone, referred to as S1–S5, is the sacral nerve area, and controls the bowel, bladder, and sexual function.

When an injury disrupts the flow of communication, and the “highway” becomes blocked, the brain can no longer send instructions to the nerves. Without instructions, the affected areas of the body will lose control and become incompletely or completely (depending on the injury) paralyzed.

Paraplegia vs. Quadriplegia

  • Paraplegia. Paraplegia is a term that refers to complete paralysis of the lower half of the body, usually affecting all or part of the trunk, legs and pelvic organs. The range of paralysis can vary on a person, depending where on the spine the injury occurred and how severe the injury. This type of paralysis occurs when the injury affects the spine at T1 or below, and results in paralysis of the legs and possible paralysis of the bladder, bowels, and sexual organs.
  • Quadriplegia. Quadriplegia occurs when the cervical spinal cord segments at levels C1 to C8 are damaged. This can result in a partial or total loss of function in both arms and legs. If a person damages the C1 spinal cord segment (at the very top of the spinal cord), he may lose function from the neck down and require permanent assistance with breathing. He may also encounter issues with the bowel and bladder, sexual function, digestion, breathing, and other autonomic functions.

Taking Back Control of Your Future

If you are a maritime or offshore worker that became paraplegic or quadriplegic after an accident on the job, the maritime law office of Steve Lee is here to help you. Call us today for a FREE consultation at 800-232-3711 and see how we can help you pursue an injury claim. We’ve helped hundreds of workers like you receive the compensation they need to lessen the weight of their future. Let us help you take back control. Call now!

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