Most people know what the spine is, and how important a healthy spine is to our well-being.
But not as many people know exactly what the spinal cord is or what it does.
You might be amazed when you find out all that the spinal cord does.
In the article below, we will learn what exactly the spinal cord is and what it does.
What Is The Spinal Cord?
Your spinal cord starts at the base of your brain and runs down what's called the vertebral canal to your backbone, and is a complex cylinder of nerves.
It's part of the body's entire collection of nerves called the central nervous system along with your brain.
The spinal cord is made up of many segments, and in each segment is a pair of roots that are made up of nerve fibers.
The pair of roots are called the dorsal roots, which are towards the back, and the ventral roots, which are away from the back.
Your spinal cord is protected by your spinal column.
Your spinal column allows you to stand upright, bend and twist, and is our bodies primary source of support.
If you do injure your spinal cord, it often causes permanent damage and changes to our body's strength, sensation, and many other functions because of its connection with the brain.
If the injury is severe enough, your life can be drastically altered.
Because the spinal cord is the center of the body's functions, there is a lot of research being done to treat spinal cord injuries.
Scientists are increasingly optimistic that the advances they are finding will eventually be able to fully repair damages.
Functions Of The Spinal Cord
Some of the main functions of our spinal cord are:
- Electrical Communication: Electrical currents travel up and down our spinal cord, sending signals that allow different parts of the body to communicate with the brain.
- Walking: When you walk, a collection of muscle groups in your legs are constantly moving. Taking each step seems incredibly simple, but there are a lot of coordinated efforts taking place for these motions to happen. The central pattern generators in the spinal cord are made up of neurons that send signals to the muscles in the legs. These signals will make them extend or contract, producing the alternating movements that occur when you walk.
- Reflexes. Reflexes are involuntary responses resulting from stimuli involving the brain, spinal cord, and nerves of the peripheral nervous system.
The Spinal Cord Structure
The structure of the spinal cord is enclosed by the protection of the vertebral column.
The spinal nerves are located in the spaces between the arches of the vertebrae.
There are five separate regions the spinal nerves are divided into.
These regions are the cervical (neck), thoracic (chest), lumbar (abdominal), sacral (pelvic) and coccygeal (tailbone).
White Matter And Grey Matter
The spinal cord is split into white matter and grey matter.
Grey matter is in the shape of a butterfly, and the white matter is the material surrounding the grey.
White matter is made up of nerve fibers, called axons that run up and down the length of the cord.
Each group of axons carries a specific type of information needed to communicate.
Axons traveling up are communicating with the brain, and axons traveling down carry signals from the brain throughout the body.
Grey matter is also arranged according to its function.
You can split grey matter into two halves.
Each half will have a dorsal horn, ventral horn, and a lateral horn.
The dorsal and ventral horns supply skeletal muscle, and the lateral horn supplies cardiac and smooth muscle.
Spinal nerves allow the spinal cord and the rest of the body to communicate.
A nerve is an organ shaped like a small cord that's made up of several axons bound together.
Each person has 31 pairs of spinal nerves:
- Eight cervical nerves located in the neck
- Twelve thoracic nerves located in the chest
- Five lumbar nerves located in the abdomen
- Five are sacral nerves located in the pelvis
- One coccygeal nerve located in the tailbone
A reflex is a simple and uncontrolled response or a learned response.
Everyone remembers being amazed as a kid when your doctor hit your knee with his little hammer and made your entire leg move.
That was an uncontrolled response.
The simple responses are built into our nervous system.
An example of a simple response is pulling your hand away after accidentally touching the stove.
An acquired reflex comes from years and years of practice, like playing the guitar.
Reflexes are made up of five components:
- Receptor: the receptor responds to an electrical signal.
- Afferent pathway: this pathway sends the action onto the integrating centre.
- Integrating center: this is the nervous system and is where all of the action potentials are processed. Once the information is processed the integrating center determines how the body should respond.
- Efferent pathway: the response then travels through this pathway to the effector organ.
- Effector organ: this organ carries out the response to all of the above. The organ responding is usually a muscle or gland in the body.
Spinal Cord Injury
A spinal cord injury occurs when a part of the cord or nerves located at the base of the spine are damaged.
This has a major effect on your body because the brain is unable t send information past the location of the injury.
So, then, the closer the injury is to the brain the more expansive the damage.
A spinal cord injury can alter the course of someone's life.
Luckily though, there are many treatment options available, and a cure for paralysis has never seemed more likely than it does now.
Technology is proving to be able to assist in the communication between the brain and the limbs that have suffered from nerve damage.
Research is progressing quickly, and in just a matter of years, we could have the means to reverse the most severe of spinal cord injuries.
All About Spinal Cord
As you can see, our spinal cord is extremely important.
Even the slightest injury to our spinal cord can drastically alter the course of our lives.
There are no fixes for spinal cord injuries yet, but there is hope on the horizon.
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