Your spine is made up of your vertebrae as well as your spinal cord and associated nerves. It’s vital to your overall health and functioning, and you can’t live without it.

So why exactly can’t people live without a spine? And what about spinal cord injuries?

Continue reading as we delve deeper into these topics.

Your spine has several functions that are vital to living. These include:

The brain-body connection

Your spinal cord is contained within your spinal column and runs from your skull to your lower back. It’s a part of your central nervous system.

Think of your spine as an information superhighway between your brain and the rest of your body.

The spinal cord works to carry messages from your brain to other parts of your body and vice versa. It does this through pairs of spinal nerves that branch off from the spinal cord at almost every vertebra.

Other nerves branch off from the spinal nerves, eventually going on to serve the various areas of your body, such as your limbs and internal organs. Without the connection between brain and body, functions such as movement and sensation would be limited.

Think of your spine as an information superhighway between your brain and the rest of your body.

Structural support

The spine also provides physical support for your body. Your spinal column is made up of 33 different bones, which are stacked vertically on top of each other.

Your spinal column helps you to stand upright and also gives structural support. For example, the spinal column:

  • supports the weight of your head and upper body
  • gives a framework where your ribs can attach
  • serves as an attachment point for various muscles and ligaments

Within the spinal column itself, discs can be found between each vertebra. Discs act as shock absorbers for your spinal column. They prevent your vertebrae from rubbing together while still allowing for flexibility.

Protection

Each of your vertebrae has a hole in the center. When they’re stacked together, these holes make a canal for your spinal cord to pass through. This helps to protect your spinal cord from injury.

A spinal cord injury (SCI) is when the spinal cord is damaged. This can happen due to accidents, violence, or underlying health conditions. The WHO estimates that 250,000 to 500,00 people around the world experience an SCI each year.

Damage to the spinal cord affects the flow of nerve signaling between your brain and other parts of your body. However, many people with an SCI survive after their injury. How is this the case if the spine is so vital?

The impact of an SCI can vary greatly from case to case. In people with an SCI, the brain still functions but can’t effectively send and receive messages to and from the parts of your body below the injury.

This often results in a partial or complete loss of movement or sensation in the affected area. The extent of this can depend on the location of the injury and whether it partially or completely disrupts nerve signaling.

Let’s look at a couple of examples:

  • Lower back SCI. In this case, the ability to move the legs may be lost. Other symptoms like loss of bladder control or changes in sexual function may also be present. However, it’s likely a person with this type of SCI will be able move their upper body, eat, and breathe without assistance.
  • Neck SCI. In this case, functions below the neck may be completely lost. In addition to loss of movement and sensation, a person with this type of SCI may need help performing many basic functions, such as breathing and eating.

Early in development, a specific area of cells closes in on itself to form something called the neural tube. The neural tube eventually goes on to form the brain and spinal cord.

Spina bifida happens when the neural tube doesn’t close properly. It can cause malformations of the vertebrae, meninges, or spinal cord that can potentially lead to symptoms like loss of movement and sensation.

Cases of spina bifida can vary in severity. The mildest form is believed to be present in 10 to 20 percent of the population and rarely causes symptoms. In more severe forms, the spinal cord or other nerve tissue may protrude through an opening in the vertebrae.

It’s estimated that about 166,000 people in the United States are currently living with spina bifida. Many people with spina bifida can go on to lead active, independent lives.

Your spine serves many important functions, including connecting your brain to other parts of your body and providing structural support. You can’t live without a spine.

Some conditions, such as SCI and spina bifida, can affect the spinal cord, leading to symptoms like partial or complete loss of movement or sensation. However, many individuals with these conditions go on to lead active, fulfilling lives.