We are all hardwired. Each and every one of us. Our Central Nervous System (CNS) was created to control our thoughts and our movement. It is at the center of who we are and how we function. As important as it is, it’s also extremely delicate and must be protected at all costs to prevent permanent damage. For most people, once your CNS is injured, there is no fixing it or getting a new one. So with this in mind, it’s a good idea to understand how it works and what it does.
What Is the Central Nervous System?
So, as you’re reading this, your eyes are sending signals to your brain that it sees shapes on the screen and your brain is translating that into letters, the letters into words, and so on. Most likely, you are using your hand to move the mouse around and your fingers to push letters on the keyboard to type. You can do all of this because of your Central Nervous System.
What Does The CNS Do?
The CNS is made up of your brain and your spinal cord. Between the two of them, they control most of the functions of your mind and body. Our brain controls our thoughts, how we interpret our surroundings and it also is where our body’s movement begins. We think we want to move our fingers to type a word. The message is then sent to the spinal cord, which acts as a conduit to send the message to where it needs to go.
We know what the brain looks like and what it does. But how about the spinal cord? Not everyone is familiar with how important it is to our everyday survival. Your spinal cord does several things, including:
- Receiving sensory neurons from the body
- It then sends motor neurons to the appropriate muscles and/or glands
- It coordinates different body parts to work together
What Else Does It Control?
The spinal cord also controls autonomic functions such as digestion, urination, body temperature, and blood pressure. This is how the CNS differentiates from our body’s other systems – it can multitask and control many things all at once.
So now we see how vital the central nervous system is to life in general and why it’s so important to protect it.
What Happens When The CNS Is Injured?
As we mentioned earlier, the central nervous system is delicate. If any part of it is damaged or injured, there is not much to be done. One of the good things is that our CNS is one of the most protected things in our body. Bones such as the skull and spinal column create a hard barrier around the brain and spinal cord, while fluid-filled spaces below the bones, called the syrinx, creates a cushion against shock.
Unfortunately, these hard covers can also prevent healing if swelling occurs and pressure builds up in the confined space. Fractured bones can also cause infection and further damage.
Why Won’t the CNS Repair Itself Like a Broken Bone?
Our bodies repair themselves by creating new cells to replace the damaged ones. It takes time, but broken bones heal. Unfortunately, the central nervous system is complex and specialized, so the cells cannot divide to create new ones.
Even with modern medicine and all of our advances, the broken connection between our brain and spinal cord is one that we cannot yet repair. These connections are so intricate, it’s nearly impossible for scientists to recreate them after an injury.
3 Common Injuries or Diseases That Affect The CNS
- Paralysis is caused, to put it as simple as possible, when the connection between the brain and the spinal cord is severed or damaged. This can occur at different stages throughout the body, depending on where the injury occurred. Paralysis can follow damage to the spinal cord, resulting in someone becoming either quadriplegic, which affects all four limbs. It can affect just one area, one side of the body, or just below the waist, as in the case of people with paraplegia.
- Strokes are another way that the central nervous system is injured. The result of injury to neurons in the brain, one of the most noticeable symptoms of a stroke is a distinctive droop and paralysis on one side of the face.
- ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. As the lateral portions of the spinal cord degenerate, the muscles affected begin to lose mobility and harden. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord, then to the muscles throughout the body. As the neurons deteriorate, the brain is unable to control movement. This is when people lose the ability to move, speak, eat, and breathe.
Preventing Injury to the CNS
Since we know living in a bubble is not practical, how can we avoid injuring our central nervous system? One way is to make sure always to wear a helmet whenever riding a bike, skateboard, scooter, or motorcycle. In case of an accident, helmets protect your brain from trauma.
Another way to prevent injury is to avoid activities that may involve violent neck movements, such as head-banging, bungee-jumping, or direct blows to the face or the back of the head. Also, remember to make sure any water you are jumping into is deep enough, so you do not injure yourself.
What may not have been a concern before should now actively be taken into consideration when you think about stepping on that skateboard or getting on that bike.
The central nervous system is arguably, the most important system in the human body. So how much did you know about it before reading this? Hopefully, now that you’ve learned how vital the CNS is to daily life, more precaution and attention will be given to keeping it safe.