What does the spinal cord do?

The brain and spinal cord are your body’s central nervous system. The brain is the command center for your body, and the spinal cord is the pathway for messages sent by the brain to the body and from the body to the brain.

The peripheral nervous system is the network of nerves strands that branch off from the left and right sides of the spinal cord through openings between each vertebra on the spinal canal. These nerve pairs spread throughout your body to deliver commands from your brain and spinal cord to and from parts of your body. Diagram.

The central nervous system and peripheral nervous system work together to allow your brain to control your body’s many functions, which includes 3 important areas (Diagram):
  1. Motor Functions - directs your body’s voluntary muscle movements.
  2. Sensory Functions – monitors sensation of touch, pressure, temperature and pain.
  3. Autonomic Functions – regulates digestion, urination, body temperature, heart rate, and dilation/contraction of blood vessels (blood pressure).
See Resources
Understanding Spinal Cord Injury: What you should know about spinal cord injury and recovery
This video uses simple language and images of real people who have sustained a spinal cord injury, as well as medical experts and advocates. Produced by Shepherd Center and KPKinteractive in collaboration with the American Trauma Society, the National Spinal Cord Injury Association and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

Understanding Spinal Cord Impairments and Functional Goals
This 26 minute video offers a basic understanding of the normal function of the spinal cord and the impact of impairment at different types and levels of injury. In addition, functional goals are addressed for levels of impairment. This video 1 in an 11-part video series provided by the University of Alabama at Birmingham Spinal Cord Injury Model System (UAB-SCIMS).

Understanding Spinal Cord Injury & Functional Goals - Basic (PDF)
An elementary overview of the changes to a normal spinal cord following SCI and one's realistic expectations regarding functional goals and outcomes. Includes illustrations of the spinal cord and the levels of injury and a chart of levels/abilities and goals. This and other InfoSheets are provided by the University of Alabama at Birmingham Spinal Cord Injury Model System (UAB-SCIMS).

Understanding Spinal Cord Injury & Functional Goals and Outcomes (PDF)
In addition to providing a realistic expectation of what one can expect regarding functional goals and outcomes, this InfoSheet offers a concise summary of the anatomy and physiology of a spinal cord injury. Describes the neurological and functional classification of SCI as well as expected functional outcomes. Includes illustrations, chart and means of assessing levels of injury, abilities and functional goals. This and other InfoSheets are provided by the University of Alabama at Birmingham Spinal Cord Injury Model System (UAB-SCIMS).

Spinal Cord Injury
A chapter from the Spinal Cord Injury Patient – Family Teaching Manual published by the Regional Spinal Cord Injury Center of the Delaware Valley (RSCICDV) at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Magee Rehabilitation Hospital. Spanish

Spinal Cord Injury Manual for Patients and Families
An online resource of information on SCI health, rehabilitation, and support. The information is provided by the Louis Calder Memorial Library of the University of Miami School of Medicine (UMSM) and related organizations.

Spinal Anatomy Center
Feature Articles and Video and Animation Directory from SpineUniverse provides patient and healthcare professional education, providing clear, straightforward information on conditions related to the spine, including degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and scoliosis.
 
Overview of the Nervous System
University of Texas Medical School at Houston developed this electronic course in neuroscience that features such as interactive graphics, animations, hyperlinks, computer-assisted interactive laboratories and interactive exam reviews. The material is designed for first-year medical students, but would also be appropriate for graduate students as well as advanced undergraduates. It has also been optimized to be accessible to individuals with various backgrounds in the neurosciences and different learning styles. Ideally, readers should have had college-level courses in physics, chemistry and biochemistry, and biology.

Spinal Cord and Spinal Nerve
Learning Modules - Medical Gross Anatomy from the University of Michigan Medical School.