le·sion /ˈlēZHən/ noun1. a region in an organ or tissue that has suffered damage through injury or disease
Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before. – Marr/Morrissey
Multiple Sclerosis gets its name from the lesions it causes on the tissue of the central nervous system. Sclerosis means “scarring,” and when the immune system destroys the myelin coating on the nerves, it leaves telltale scars. Multiple scars, if you will.
Now, the majority of people with MS have lesions in the brain. Some also have lesions on the spinal cord. Fewer have spinal cord lesions only. Guess which group I fall into! Yep, my brain is clear; I have lesions on my spinal cord.
Now, the spinal cord is divided into sections (from neck to tailbone, that’s 8 cervical, 12 thoracic, 5 lumbar, 5 sacral, and 1 coccygeal, for those of you keeping score at home), each of which is identified by its section and its number. My spinal cord is damaged at T10 and T11; for reference, T10 is right at the navel.
Why is this important? Well, the area where you have damage/scars/lesions dictates the location of your symptoms, so I could have problems from the waist down, but not from the waist up. I also have symptoms on one side of my body only (the left side! Another L!), which means the damage to the spinal cord is only on one side. Still, it affected both sensory nerves (those that carry information back to the brain) and motor nerves (that bring messages from the brain telling your body to move).
Thus, I have the following: nerves that send too much information about soft touch (making innocuous things like clothing or stepping on the floor feel really really uncomfortable) and not enough about sharp pain (so being pricked with a pin feels like it’s happening through a wetsuit); various areas that are numb; and muscles that don’t work properly and end up making my leg weak or my foot droopy or my bladder unresponsive.
Yet again, I’m afraid this sounds whiny, which isn’t my intention! It’s just meant to be informative, to let people know what MS is like. Believe me, I know how lucky I am.