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Types & Levels of Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injuries can occur in a wide variety of ways, and they can range in severity. There are several different types and levels of spinal cord injuries that can affect individuals, leading to significant health effects. Here, we want to discuss these different types and levels of spinal cord injuries as well as some of the substantial costs associated with this type of trauma. If you’ve been harmed due to another party’s negligence, a spinal cord injury attorney in Houston may be able to help with your claim.

A Complete or Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury

We should first look at the basic definitions of spinal cord injuries provided by the Shepherd Center. Understanding the difference between a “complete” or an “incomplete” spinal cord injury is the starting point.

  • Complete spinal cord injury. When the spinal cord is entirely cut through at the injury’s location, it typically results in paralysis below the point of injury, signifying a complete spinal cord injury.
  • Incomplete spinal cord injury. This happens when the spinal cord is partially damaged but not entirely cut through. The impact of such injuries varies widely among individuals, influenced by the injury’s location and severity. While some may face different degrees of paralysis, others might maintain a significant amount of their mobility.

Quadriplegia Versus Paraplegia

Some of the most common terms individuals are familiar with concerning spinal cord injuries are “quadriplegia” and “paraplegia.”

  • Quadriplegia. Also known as tetraplegia, this level of injury involves paralysis affecting the entire body and all limbs below the neck. This condition usually arises from damage to the cervical portion of the spinal cord.
  • Paraplegia. This level of injury characterizes the loss of movement and sensation in the legs, pelvic region, and trunk. This type of paralysis generally results from injuries to the spinal cord’s lumbar section, impacting the lower half of the body.

Areas of the Spine Affected

Our spines are defined as five separate regions, with different vertebrae making up a part of each region. Injuries to these areas can all cause long-term trauma, but generally, the most severe spinal cord injuries involve trauma to the cervical or thoracic spine.

  1. Cervical spinal region. The cervical region, located at the neck, is where injuries can be particularly devastating, sometimes even leading to death. Those who experience injury in this part of the spinal cord may face quadriplegia, which entails loss of function from the neck down, including challenges in breathing, speaking, and managing bowel and bladder control.
  2. Thoracic spinal region. Damage to the thoracic spinal cord, which encompasses the upper to mid-back area, can impact the chest, abdomen, and back. Recovery outcomes for thoracic injuries vary widely among individuals, with many requiring support for daily activities.
  3. Lumbar spinal region. Injuries at the lumbar level, situated in the lower back, often allow individuals the possibility of walking with the aid of braces or navigating daily life using a wheelchair. With intensive physical therapy and rehabilitation, significant recovery may be achievable.
  4. Sacral spinal region. Damage to the spinal cord’s sacral area, affecting the lower back, hips, thighs, buttocks, and pelvic organs, often still permits the ability to walk. Recovery from sacral injuries generally allows for a return to normal mobility.
  5. Coccygeal spinal region. Injuring the coccyx, or tailbone, typically results in considerable discomfort but usually heals over time without causing permanent damage, allowing individuals to recover fully.

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