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How a spinal cord injury can impact your body clock

A spinal cord injury (SCI) is a serious blow to the human body -- impacting far more than the area directly affected by the injury. It's not unusual for SCI victims to experience suppressed immunity, hormonal changes, body temperature abnormalities and more.

The recently published results of a study for the U.S. Department of Defense indicate that an SCI can also throw off a person's body clock -- at least in the days immediately following the injury. The researchers at the University of Colorado in Boulder who worked on the study found that the tissue injury involved in an SCI can throw of circadian rhythms.

A senior author of the study says, "The surprising and important finding here is that localized tissue damage fundamentally changes the rhythms of life." The study was conducted on rats who were injured in the middle of their spinal cord, so it's still unknown if the same disruption happens in humans. It has been found, however, that people who suffer an SCI have long-term sleep problems.

The study's lead author explains, "Every single cell in our body has its own molecular clock, including all the machinery required for the body to know what time it is. We wanted to know how spinal cord injury impacts the mediators that influence those clocks and the clocks themselves."

If the findings of this study are replicated in human subjects, those in the medical community can work on steps by intensive care unit (ICU) staff to reset people's body clocks in the aftermath of an SCI as well as strokes and traumatic brain injuries to improve their long-term chances of recovery. These steps could include things as simple as increasing their exposure to morning light, ensuring darkness at night and keeping them on strict sleep, meal and rehabilitation schedules.

Spinal cord injuries can be complicated. Patients often don't know to what degree their lives will change or for how long. If you're seeking compensation through legal action from those responsible for your SCI, it's important to consider all the potential medical, rehabilitation and other expenses you'll have in the upcoming months and perhaps years.

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