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What Is the Difference Between a Complete or Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury?

Posted on August 19, 2021 in

Complete vs. Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury

A spinal cord injury affects the nerves and vertebrae along our spine, which transmit information between the brain and the rest of the body. Any damage to the spinal cord can lead to serious, sometimes permanent effects, such as paralysis or breathing difficulties. However, spinal cord injury severity often varies based on the location and the classification of the injury. There are two types of spinal cord injuries: complete and incomplete. 

Complete versus Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries

A complete spinal cord injury occurs when a person is unable to feel or move any part of his or her body below the injury site. These patients often sustain permanent paralysis and are likely to experience some of the most severe complications of this condition, such as breathing or swallowing difficulties. On the other hand, patients with incomplete spinal cord injuries retain some sort of feeling or function below their injuries. The American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) uses a grading system to identify the type and severity of spinal cord injuries.

  • ASIA A: The patient has sustained a complete spinal cord injury and has lost all sensory and motor function below the injury site.
  • ASIA B: The patient has sustained a complete loss of motor function but retains some sensation below the injury site.
  • ASIA C: The patient retains some motor function, but less than half of his or her affected muscle groups are able to perform at full capacity.
  • ASIA D: The patient retains some motor function and more than half of his or her affected motor groups are able to perform at full capacity.
  • ASIA E: The injury has not affected a patient’s sensory or motor functions and his or her condition is normal.

How to Diagnose Complete and Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries

All types of spinal cord injuries require emergency medical attention. During the initial treatment, a patient’s medical team will work to stabilize his or her condition and treat any life-threatening injuries. The doctors will also check to see if a patient can move or feel below the injury site.

Using imaging machines like X-rays or MRI scans, the patient’s medical team will monitor his or her condition and wait for swelling around the injury to reduce. Swelling can make an incomplete injury look like a complete one, so it is important to wait until this symptom subsides. Once the patient reaches this stage, a specialist will examine the patient and determine the level of his or her nerve, motor, and sensory functions. 

What to Do After Experiencing a Spinal Cord Injury

The aftermath of a spinal cord injury can feel overwhelming. Depending on the nature and severity of the damage, you may require extensive medical care, experience significant pain, and need to cope with the loss of feeling and movement below the injury site. The physical, emotional, and financial impact of the injury can be difficult to bear.

If someone else is responsible for your spinal cord injury, however, you could hold him or her accountable through a lawsuit or insurance claim. While compensation cannot reverse the impact of the injury, filing a claim can help you pay for medical care, recoup lost wages or earning potential, and support other costs related to your injury. 

In these situations, it is important to speak with a Portland spinal cord injury lawyer. An attorney can evaluate your case and determine if you are eligible for compensation. After receiving treatment for your spinal cord injury, contact an attorney to discuss your legal options.