Types and Levels of Spinal Cord Injuries

Updated on August 31, 2023
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Your spinal cord is the connection between your brain and body, so it is responsible for sending messages between the two. When it sustains an injury, it can disrupt those signals. Depending on where the injury occurred and how severe it is, it may have lifelong consequences that prevent you from working in your field or enjoying life as you once did.

According to Caputo & Van Der Walde, LLP, spinal cord injuries are most common in car, truck, and motorcycle accidents. They can also occur when you suffer a catastrophic fall, such as while working on a construction site.

Understanding more about the levels of spinal cord injuries can help you determine how they can impact your life. This will also be instrumental in calculating a fair amount of compensation in a personal injury lawsuit.

Types of Spinal Cord Injuries 

First, you must understand that there are two types of spinal cord injuries – complete or incomplete spinal cord injuries.

Complete Spinal Cord Injury

The spine will sustain permanent damage in a complete spinal cord injury. This means the victim could suffer from paraplegia, which causes them to lose movement and sensation in their body. Tetraplegia is far worse because it affects every limb. The diagnosis will all depend on which part of the spine has been affected.

In cases of complete spinal injuries, injury victims lose the ability to move or feel parts of their body below the point of injury. This may be instantaneous in the accident or over time as the cord swells.

Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury

An incomplete injury to the spinal cord may cause limited mobility and loss of some feeling. It will depend on where the spinal cord was damaged. Brown-Sequard syndrome is the diagnosis of one side of the spine having sustained an injury. Anterior cord syndrome means damage to the front of the spinal cord, leading to some motor functions and senses being affected. With central cord syndrome, some nerve damage is present because the spinal cord’s center has been damaged.

After an incomplete spinal injury, you will still have some feeling below your injury though it’s common to experience numbness or tingling in your hands and feet. You may also have pain in your neck, back, or head. Loss of bladder or bowel control is common, and you may find it more difficult to walk or breathe.

This is why it is imperative to seek immediate medical treatment after you’ve been in a serious accident. Primary damage from whatever caused the injury, plus secondary damage due to swelling, can soon result, and without getting treatment, you may worsen your condition.

Spinal Cord Injury Levels

The spine has four different levels, which will correlate with any injuries. Knowing more about these locations can help you to understand your diagnosis and prognosis.

Cervical Spinal Cord Injuries

Your cervical spine is located in your neck, right above your shoulders. Damage to the spine in this location can be severe, impacting the C1 to C7 cervical vertebrae.

If you have an injury to your cervical spine, you will likely experience neck or arm pain and weaknesses in these areas. You may lose coordination and experience muscle spasms in your legs or walk with an unsteady gait. Additionally, you will have less muscle tone in your arms and lack the ability to hold items.

Thoracic Spinal Cord Injuries

Just below the cervical spine is where the thoracic spine is located. This area is the largest portion of the spine, composed of the T1 to T12 vertebrae. Injuries here can cause pain in the upper chest and the middle of the back. You may even experience pain in your abdomen from a thoracic spinal cord injury.

Lumbar Spinal Cord Injuries

You have the L1 to L5 vertebrae in your lower back that make up the lumbar spine. With a severe injury in this area, you may need a wheelchair or leg braces. Pain or numbness in your back, down your legs, in your feet, and buttocks is common. This pain may only be relegated to one or both sides of your body.

Sacral Spinal Cord Injuries

The sacral spinal cord is located in the pelvic area where the vertebrae make up your tailbone, called the sacrum. If you have been injured here, you will experience pain in the pelvic area, hips, and thighs. Loss of bladder or bowel control is common as are sensory issues. While injuries to this area are rare, they are very uncomfortable. Fortunately, they will not prevent you from walking.

What to Do If an Accident Has Damaged Your Spinal Cord

Spinal cord injuries can be life-altering and require specialized treatment and long-term care. It is essential that you get immediate care following an accident to find out what type and level of spinal cord injury you have sustained.

After that, you will want to discuss your case with a personal injury attorney. If someone else’s careless actions caused your injuries, you shouldn’t be left paying for extensive medical bills.

What Compensation Can You Receive for Spinal Cord Injuries in California?

Since spinal cord damage leaves most victims with life-changing injuries, you can seek compensation from the at-fault party. An experienced attorney can help you calculate the compensation you deserve for your injuries.

Generally speaking, you can recover the costs of your medical bills, rehab, lost time from work, diminished future earnings, mental anguish, loss of quality of life, future medical treatment, medical equipment, and pain and suffering. Every case is unique, and you will want someone to advocate for your legal rights as you adjust to your life with these injuries. With an attorney, you’ll have someone in your corner making sure that justice prevails so you don’t end up drowning in debt to cover your medical costs. 

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.