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What Happens to Your Body After C2 Spinal Cord Injury?

A C2 spinal cord injury is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.

It can cause paralysis throughout your entire body and will require major lifestyle changes.

This article will go over everything you need to know about C2 spinal cord injuries so that you know what to expect and how to move forward.

Let’s get started!

Spinal Column Anatomy

The spinal cord is protected by the spine, and just like there are names for all the different vertebrae that make up the spine, there are names for the corresponding nerve roots that branch out from the spinal cord.

There are 7 vertebrae and 8 nerve roots that make up the spinal column. Each spinal nerve branches out above its corresponding vertebra (C1 nerve root, C1 vertebra, C2 nerve root, C2 vertebra, C3 nerve root, etc.).

The C1 (the atlas) and C2 (the axis) vertebrae are especially important for head movements.

Where the skull and C1 vertebra meet, forms the joint that allows you to nod your head up and down. Where the C1 and C2 vertebrae meet, forms the joint that allows you to move your head left to right.

These 2 vertebrae are essential for supporting the skull, neck mobility, and protecting the spinal cord.

C2 Myotomes and Dermatomes

areas of the skin affected by c2 spinal cord injury
photo credit: Ralf Stefan

Each nerve root contains sensory and motor axons that correspond to various areas of the body.

A dermatome is the area of skin and a myotome is the group of muscles stimulated.

The C2 dermatomes include the top and back of the scalp, the ear lobes, and the front of the neck.

The C2 myotomes include the muscles that allow neck flexion (nodding head movements).

Functions Affected by a C2 Spinal Cord Injury

what to expect with C2 spinal cord injury

The higher up the spinal cord the injury is, the greater the sensory and motor impairment.

This is because messages between the brain and body can’t get past the site of injury. In the case of a C2 spinal cord injury, brain signals can’t travel past the C2 region of the spinal cord, so all the areas below (which is almost the entire spinal cord) also can’t properly receive signals.

Therefore, the muscles affected by a C2 spinal cord injury are not just the neck muscles, but all the muscles from the neck down.

Let’s go over some of the major functions that are affected by a C2 spinal cord injury.

1. Breathing

Just like C1 spinal cord injuries, C2 spinal cord injuries are often fatal and require immediate medical attention.

Individuals with C2 spinal cord injuries will lose control over diaphragm functions and will need the assistance of a ventilator to breathe.

Breathing difficulties increase the risk of respiratory complications after spinal cord injury.

Respiratory complications are the #1 cause of death in spinal cord injury patients.

2. Speaking

People with C2 spinal cord injuries may also be unable to speak, not due to cognitive failure, but because of restricted motor function.

Paired with poor or no control over body movements, inability to speak can make it extremely difficult for these individuals to communicate.

3. Sensation Below the Neck

Depending on the severity of injury, people with C2 spinal cord injuries can lose up to all sensation from the neck down.

Our sensory stimuli are what notifies the brain to react.

For example, when you touch something that is too hot, the stimuli will travel up the spinal cord to the brain and the brain will send a signal to move your hand.

Loss of sensation throughout your body can put you in many dangerous situations, so it is up to you and your caregiver to always be aware of your surroundings.

4. Paralysis

A C2 spinal cord injury will result in quadriplegia (paralysis of the upper and lower body).

Patients will need the full assistance of a caregiver to perform activities of daily living like eating and transferring.

Paralysis from the neck down will result in muscle atrophy. This is when your muscles shrink because you’re not using them.

Muscle atrophy reduces circulation, slows down metabolism, and makes you more susceptible to injury.

Additionally, those with quadriplegia are more likely to get pressure sores from staying the one position for too long and must make sure that their caregiver helps them shift positions every couple hours.

5. Bladder and Bowel

Another outcome of C2 spinal cord injuries is bladder and bowel dysfunction.

The bladder and bowel muscles are controlled by the nerves at the bottom of the spinal cord, so most spinal cord injuries will result in at least some bladder and bowel problems.

Essentially, you lose control of the ability to contract and relax the muscles responsible for eliminating waste.

Therefore, you will likely need to utilize catheterization and other bladder and bowel management techniques.

C2 Spinal Cord Injury Treatment

cervical spinal cord injury and quadriplegia

Unfortunately, there is currently no treatment to reverse damage from spinal cord injury.

However, the goals of C2 spinal cord injury recovery are to:

1. Stabilize the Neck

Depending on the severity of your C2 spinal cord injury, you may need surgery to reduce pressure on the spinal cord.

Steroid injections can help reduce inflammation and prevent cutting off blood flow to the spinal cord.

In milder cases, patients may just need to wear a halo brace to support their neck and ensure proper alignment.

2. Restore Respiratory Function

Stabilizing respiratory function is the most urgent priority that must be resolved after a C2 spinal cord injury.

C2 spinal cord injuries have high mortality rates due to impaired diaphragm function.

Without immediate medical attention, patients won’t be able to breathe.

3. Focus on Physical and Mental Health Moving Forward

A C2 spinal cord injury will dramatically change your lifestyle and require a lot of adjustments.

Patients will go to physical therapy to assess their functions after spinal cord injury and strengthen weak or unaffected areas.

Occupational therapy will teach patients and their caregivers how to go about daily life after spinal cord injury.

The aftermath of a C2 SCI can also take a huge toll on your mental health, so counseling or psychotherapy will be essential for helping you cope emotionally.

While spinal cord injury will require a lot of change, you can still live a fulfilling and happy life by working hard on recovery and surrounding yourself with loved ones for support.

C2 Spinal Cord Injury

Remember, every spinal cord injury is different. They can range from mild to severe, so even if you have a C2 spinal cord injury, you may still be able to recover sensory and motor functions.

Need a little more hope? Check out this video of a patient with a C2 spinal cord injury working hard on his recovery!

That’s a wrap! Hopefully, this article helped you better understand your C2 spinal cord injury. Good luck!

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