Spinal Cord Injuries

Brief and general description of injury levels.

The types of disability associated with SCI vary greatly depending on the severity of the injury, the segment of the spinal cord at which the injury occurs, and which nerve fibers are damaged. Most people with SCI regain some functions between a week and 6 months after injury, but the likelihood of spontaneous recovery diminishes after 6 months. Rehabilitation strategies can minimize long-term disability

The level of injury is very helpful in predicting what parts of the body might be affected by paralysis and loss of function. Remember that in incomplete injuries there will be some variation in these prognoses.

Neck: Cervical (neck) injuries usually result in quadriplegia.

C-1 to C-4: These very high injuries (C-1, C-2) can result in a loss of many involuntary functions including the ability to breathe, necessitating breathing aids such as mechanical ventilators or diaphragmatic pacemakers.

C-5: C-5 injuries often result in shoulder and biceps control, but no control at the wrist or hand. C-6: C-6 injuries generally yield wrist control, but no hand function.

C-7 and T-1: Individuals with C-7 and T-1 injuries can straighten their arms but still may have dexterity problems with the hand and fingers. Injuries at the thoracic level and below result in paraplegia, with the hands not affected.

T-1 to T-8: At T-1 to T-8 there is most often control of the hands, but poor trunk control as the result of lack of abdominal muscle control.
T-9-T12: Lower T-injuries (T-9 to T-12) allow good truck control and good abdominal muscle control. Sitting balance is very good. Lumbar and Sacral injuries yield decreasing control of the hip flexors and legs.

Besides a loss of sensation or motor functioning, individuals with SCI also experience other changes. For example, they may experience dysfunction of the bowel and bladder,. Men with SCI may have their fertility affected, while women's fertility is generally not affected.

Other effects of SCI may include low blood pressure, inability to regulate blood pressure effectively, reduced control of body temperature, inability to sweat below the level of injury, and chronic pain.