Dr. Eck received a Bachelor of Science degree from the Catholic University of America in Biomedical Engineering, followed by a Master of Science degree in Biomedical Engineering from Marquette University. Following this he worked as a research engineer conducting spine biomechanics research. He then attended medical school at University of Health Sciences. He is board eligible in orthopaedic surgery.
Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
The spinal cord is a collection of nerves that travels from the bottom of the
brain down your back. There are 31 pairs of nerves that leave the spinal cord
and go to your arms, legs, chest and abdomen. These nerves allow your brain to
give commands to your muscles and cause movements of your arms and legs. The
nerves that control your arms exit from the upper portion of the spinal cord,
while the nerves to your legs exit from the lower portion of the spinal cord.
The nerves also control the function of your organs including your heart, lungs,
bowels, and bladder. For example, signals from the spinal cord control how fast
your heart beats and your rate of breathing.
Other nerves travel from your arms and legs back to the spinal cord. These
nerves bring back information from your body to your brain including the senses
of touch, pain, temperature, and position. The spinal cord runs through the
spinal canal. This canal is surrounded by the bones in your neck and back called
vertebrae which make up your back bone. The vertebrae are divided into 7 neck
(cervical) vertebrae, 12 chest (thoracic) vertebrae and 5 lower back (lumbar)
vertebrae. The vertebrae help protect the spinal cord from injury.
What is a spinal cord injury?
The spinal cord is very sensitive to injury. Unlike other parts of your body,
the spinal cord does not have the ability to repair itself if it is damaged. A
spinal cord injury occurs when there is damage to the spinal cord either from
trauma, loss of its normal blood supply, or compression from tumor or infection.
There are approximately 10,000 new cases of spinal cord injury each year in the
United States. They are most common in white males. Specifically, 80% of spinal
cord injuries occur in males, and 2/3 occur in whites. Most injuries occur in
patients 16-30 years of age.
Spinal cord injuries are described as either complete or incomplete. In a
complete spinal cord injury there is complete loss of sensation and muscle
function in the body below the level of the injury. In an incomplete spinal cord
injury there is some remaining function below the level of the injury. In most
cases both sides of the body are affected equally.
An injury to the upper portion of the spinal cord in the neck can cause
quadriplegia-paralysis of both arms and both legs. If the injury to the spinal
cord occurs lower in the back it can cause paraplegia-paralysis of both legs
The first step in treatment of a suspected spinal cord injury is to verify the patient is breathing and the heart is beating. A spinal cord injury in the upper neck can cause a loss of control of normal breathing. This may require the placement of a breathing tube and use of a ventilator.
The next step in treatment of a spinal cord injury is immobilization. This often occurs at the time of injury prior to being transported to the hospital. Emergency medical technicians may place the patient in a cervical collar or on a backboard to help prevent the spine from moving. If the patient has a spinal cord injury, further movement of the spine could lead to further damage.