What Are the Categories of Spinal Cord Injuries?

Updated on June 13, 2023

There are different types of spinal cord injuries that approximately 12,500 people find themselves in each year. Each has a separate category that will determine the amount of compensation for your spinal cord injury. Two types are complete and incomplete spinal cord injuries. Doctors will label each individual under these categories:

  • Tetraplegia or Quadriplegia.
  • Paraplegia.
  • Triplegia.

Each category depends on the part of the spine that is damaged. Some may heal with physical therapy, and others will remain paralyzed for life. The results depend on the extent of the damage of the spine and if the nerves were affected in the fracture or break. The most common ways spinal damages occur are through work injuries, vehicle accidents, slips, or falls. Getting with an experienced attorney is critical because injuries dealing with the spine are costly. If negligence is involved, there is no reason the victim should have to suffer the bill over the physical and mental stress. 

What are Complete Spinal Cord Injuries?

Complete spinal cord injuries are the worst injuries to receive due to eliminating brain signals to the area of injury. This causes paralysis and varies on the location of where the injury occurs on the spine. There is no hope for recovery in many cases, even though the patient will undergo lifelong therapy and treatments. 

What are Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries?

These injuries are becoming more common in people and are difficult to overcome. Some have a better chance to regain function but are limited to feeling and sensations below the injured part of the spine. For example, both legs may no longer function while one arm may become limited but still can be used. Due to research and extensive studies, 60 percent of these spinal cord injuries progress in rehab and special treatments through the latest technology. There are three different types of incomplete spinal cord injuries:

  • Anterior Cord Syndrome: This injury is found in the front part of the spinal cord. The sensory and motor pathways are affected, and it causes a struggle with movement, but the person will have feelings and sensations. 
  • Central Cord Syndrome: This injury is located at the center of the spinal cord and blocks the brain’s signals, leading to a lack of motor skills, partial impairment, and paralysis in the arms. The legs will have partial sensation, and many who face this lose their ability to control bodily functions and lose their sexual abilities. 
  • Brown-Sequard Syndrome: This injury is where one side of the spinal cord is damaged, and it causes paralysis to one side of the body. One side may be fully functional, while the other will not allow movement or feeling to the opposite side. Each victim’s result is different as to the extent of the damage received. 

Doctor’s Labels

When spinal cord injuries occur, the doctor will order X-rays and find the fracture spot or break. From there, they will label the patient accordingly. As mentioned earlier, the labels will determine what type of treatment works best for the injury and determine therapy treatment at a rehab facility. 

  • Tetraplegia or Quadriplegia: Among the three, this is the worst to be labeled. The cervical spinal cord is damaged and causes paralysis to all limbs, usually from the neck down. In these cases, machines assist the victim to breathe and a feeding tube to eat for those in the worst situations. All bodily functions do not operate properly or do not work at all. The person uses a special wheelchair and needs around-the-clock care. The higher up the fracture or break is on the spine, the worst the situation will be. 
  • Paraplegia: The thoracic spinal cord is damaged, which is below the middle of the spine. When this happens, the person can no longer use their bladder or bowels and is paralyzed from the waist down. They also lose the function of their sexual organs. Some may recover partial use over time with physical therapy, but the prognosis is slim to none. It depends on the extent of the damage. 
  • Triplegia: This type of damage is due to an incomplete spinal cord injury and is explained as both legs are paralyzed, with one arm paralyzed and the other with limited mobility. 

Other Symptoms of Spinal Cord Injury

Paralysis is the number one symptom, but other problems arise from spinal cord injuries that victims face. Most of them we covered in this article, but these are the effects of the injury that can plague a person for the rest of their lives:

  • Headaches. 
  • Chronic Pain.
  • Frequent Infections.
  • Changes in Personality such as depression or anxiety.
  • PTSD.
  • Nerve Pain.
  • Pneumonia.
  • Bedsores.
  • Chronic Muscle Pain.

The Most Common Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries 

According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, research is conducted annually, and they came up with the top ten leading causes of SCI. They are as follows: 

  • Auto Accidents.
  • Falls.
  • Gunshot Wounds.
  • Diving Injuries.
  • Motorcycle Accidents.
  • Falling Objects.
  • Surgical and Medical Complications.
  • Pedestrian Accidents.
  • Bicycle Accidents.
  • Sports Injuries.

Treatments and Therapy

Spinal cord injuries are not like any other injuries and are treated with extra precaution and care. Treatment starts as soon as the medical team arrives by stabilizing the victim, keeping them from moving. For the most severe cases, blood transfusions, neck collars, breathing assistance, and other medical care are critical to the victims’ survival. Upon arrival at the hospital and under the doctor’s care, the patient will receive further instruction on the steps taken to work at the best options for recovery. Everything is covered in the list below:

  • Ventilators, if necessary to assist in breathing.
  • Feeding tubes, if necessary.
  • Medication for pain and palliative care for comfort. 
  • Diet plan for healthier living.
  • Physical therapy for the mind and body.
  • Counseling for the victim and family members.
  • Surgery to correct damages.

A spine surgeon can determine which surgical procedure can address your specific issue. Some common procedures include laminectomy, discectomy, and fusion. 

Laminectomy involves removing part of the lamina, the bony arch that protects the spinal cord, to relieve nerve and spinal cord pressure. On the other hand, discectomy removes a herniated disc, a cushion of deformed cartilage that can press on the spinal cord and nerves. Combining two or more vertebrae in a process called fusion helps stabilize the spine and prevent further malformations.  

Many patients are finding the path to recovery is not hopeless. It is a long and painful process, but things are looking more promising for SCI victims to gain a complete recovery with stem cell therapies. Although there are no guarantees, the data shows a glimmer of hope toward a cure.

Stem cell therapy has been shown to treat a variety of spinal cord injuries. When stem cells, usually mesenchymal and neural cells, are transplanted into the spinal cord, they can help to repair damaged tissue, promote nerve regeneration, and improve function. 

You can talk to your spinal specialist to find out if this procedure is perfect for your needs.

The Attorney is the Key Player   

The last thing a person needs to worry about is the medical bills in the hundreds of thousands for SCI victims. The attorney chosen is the key player to get the compensation for the medical bills, pain, suffering, punitive damage if negligence is involved, loss of wages, and compensation for the caregivers who sacrifice so much for their loved ones. They will gather all the information and fight for justice and compensation.


Spinal cord injuries can come in a variety of forms. But they all share one thing: how debilitating and life-changing they can be. It’s not uncommon to find people facing serious dilemmas after experiencing such an injury.

This is why consulting a spine surgeon and a lawyer is crucial. Ensure you get the right medical treatment and your deserved compensation with the help of experts.

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.