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What Are the Levels of Spinal Cord Injury?

Posted on August 19, 2021 in

spinal cord injury levels

The spinal cord is the network of nerves and vertebrae that help transmit messages between your body and the brain. Any damage to the spinal cord can be very severe, often resulting in permanent disability, the need for long-term medical care, and several physical and emotional complications. However, not all spinal cord injuries are the same. 

Medical professionals classify spinal cord damage based on the severity of the injury and the area of the spinal cord that the damage affects. A spinal cord injury’s classification impacts nearly all aspects of a patient’s treatment plan, including required programs, potential outcomes, and long-term costs.

Incomplete versus Complete Spinal Cord Injuries

There are two main types of spinal cord injuries: complete and incomplete. Complete spinal cord injuries occur when a patient loses all feeling and motor function at or below his or her injury site. Most patients who suffer from a complete spinal cord injury are permanently paralyzed and develop serious complications, such as breathing difficulties. 

On the other hand, incomplete spinal cord injuries occur when a patient retains some feeling or movement below the injury site. The nature and extent of the remaining function depends on the location and severity of the injury.

The Different Levels of Spinal Cord Damage

Medical professionals base outcomes and treatment plans for spinal cord injuries on a number of factors, including the location of the damage. Each section of the spine contains a unique group of nerves that control various body functions. As a result, medical professionals classify levels of spinal cord injuries based on the affected section.

There are four sections of the spinal cord: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral.

  • Cervical spinal cord injuries occur along the highest portion of the spinal cord and are the most likely to result in severe damage. These injuries impact the head and neck and may lead to quadriplegia or tetraplegia. High cervical spinal cord injuries are often fatal.
  • Thoracic spinal cord injuries affect the upper chest, abdominal muscles, and the middle of the back. Patients may develop paraplegia, experience a loss of bladder or bowel control, and may require a wheelchair to move around.
  • Lumbar spinal cord injuries affect the hips and the legs. Patients typically experience a loss of function in these areas and may require a wheelchair or braces or move. Loss of bowel and bladder function is also common.
  • Sacral spinal cord injuries occur along the lowest part of the spine, affecting the hips, pelvic organs, and thighs. Patients who experience this type of damage are the most likely to be able to walk after their accidents. However, loss of function in the hips and legs may also occur.

The Long-Term Impact of a Spinal Cord Injury

If you sustain a spinal cord injury, you can experience painful long-term effects. You may be unable to walk or move without assistance, requiring mobility equipment, modifications to your home or vehicle, and live-in care. Treatment for spinal cord injuries can be very expensive, often exceeding millions of dollars over the average person’s lifetime. You may be unable to return to work, resulting in lost wages, and grapple with psychological trauma.

However, you may have grounds for legal action if someone else caused your spinal cord injury. In these situations, a Portland spinal cord injury lawyer can evaluate your case and determine if you are eligible for financial compensation. After receiving medical attention for your injury, speak to an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your legal options.