Can You Live Without a Spine?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Why we can’t live without a spine

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.

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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
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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.

Why we can live with a spinal cord injury

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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:

Read more on: live


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