Types of Spinal Cord Injuries


What is a spinal cord injury?

A spinal cord injury involves damage to any part of the spinal cord or the nerves at the end of the spinal canal. The spinal column consists of stacked bones called vertebrae. The vertebrae house the spinal cord. These nerves carry communication signals between the brain and the rest of the body. When damage occurs to a part of the spinal cord or nerves at the bottom of the spinal canal, it is considered a spinal cord injury.

Types of spinal cord injuries

Typically, spinal cord injuries that occur higher on the spinal cord are more severe. This includes the neck, first or second vertebrae, or mid-cervical vertebrae in the spinal column. Spinal cord injuries can be divided based on completeness or the level of loss of functioning.

Completeness of spinal cord injury

The severity of a spinal cord injury determines the level of completeness. There are two levels of completeness: complete and incomplete.

  • Complete
    With a complete spinal cord injury, motor function is lost below the spinal cord injury; voluntary movement and the ability to feel (sensory function) is exclusively lost. There is no movement or feeling below the injury level.
  • Incomplete
    With an incomplete spinal cord injury, some motor function and sensory ability is lost below the level of injury; however, some sensory or motor function still exists. There is still a measure of feeling or movement below the injury level. The severity of an incomplete injury varies.

Level of loss of function

The level of function that an individual retains after a spinal cord injury depends on how much of the body is affected by paralysis.

  • Tetraplegia/Quadriplegia involves total or partial loss of motor and sensory function in all four limbs and the torso.
  • Paraplegia involves total or partial loss of motor and sensory function in the trunk, legs, or pelvic organs. It may involve all of these areas or specific parts of these regions.
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