Types of Spinal Cord Injuries

Not all spinal cord injuries are the same. Depending on which region of the spine an injury occurs at, your loved one may face very different injury possibilities. On this page, I want to review some of the most common types of spinal cord injuries. This can help you and your family understand what you are up against in the wake of a spinal cord injury.

Complete vs. Incomplete Injuries

If you read my page about the anatomy of the spinal cord, you may be familiar with the terms “complete” and “incomplete” when it comes to injuries to the spine. Determining if an injury is complete or incomplete is the first step in understanding the severity of the injury and what should be done to treat it.

Complete injuries to the spinal cord mean that the cord is entirely severed and it can no longer function. This is obviously the more severe of the two situations and generally means that a person has sustained a serious injury. However, with the help of certain kinds of treatment such as physical therapy, patients can regain function in some cases.

An incomplete injury to a spinal cord means that the cord has only been partially severed. Because of this, the person can retain some function. How much function they retain depends on the severity of the injury. Early detection and proper treatment can sometimes reduce a spinal cord injury to incomplete. Incomplete injuries are now more common than complete injuries, which is certainly a good thing.

Common Examples of Incomplete Injuries

There are many different types of spinal cord injuries, due in large part to how many vertebrae there are in the spinal cord and what body parts these vertebrae help control. A few common types of incomplete injuries that your loved one might suffer from include:

  • Brown-Sequard Syndrome: If only one side of the spinal cord is injured, a person might have Brown-Sequard Syndrome. This means that half of the body is seriously affected by the trauma, while the other side of the body retains some or all of it’s function. How much function is retained in each side of the body (left and right side) depends on the specific injury, but there will be a different level of function retention per side if a person has Brown-Sequard Syndrome.
  • Central Cord Syndrome: When the center of the spinal cord is injured, it is referred to as Central Cord Syndrome. People with Central Cord Syndrome usually face issues such as arm paralysis, reduced fine motor skills, impairment to the legs, reduced bladder control, and reduced sexual ability.
  • Anterior Cord Syndrome: This condition happens when the front of the spinal cord is damaged. It affects the sensory and motor pathways within the spinal cord. A person with this syndrome will struggle moving certain body parts.

Common Types of Spinal Cord Injuries

Doctors label spinal cord injuries depending on their nature. A few common categories for spinal cord injuries include:

  • Paraplegia: If a person loses the ability to move or feel the lower part of their body, they become a paraplegic. This type of injury results from trauma to the thoracic spinal cord. The severity of this issue is generally tied to which vertebrae are affected. Trauma to vertebrae located closer to the top of the cord tends to result in more serious injuries.
  • Tetraplegia: Tetraplegia is a very serious injury. It results from trauma to the cervical spinal cord and causes paralysis of the limbs. Tetraplegia is sometimes referred to as quadriplegia. It paralyses a person below the site of their injury. Again, the injuries become more severe when the vertebrae located at the top of the spinal cord are affected.
  • Triplegia: This is generally the result of an incomplete spinal cord injury. A person with triplegia might also has Brown-Sequard Syndrome because this affects only one arm but both legs.

Seeking Help

As you can see, injuries to the spinal cord can vary greatly. Some are minor, while some are very serious and even life threatening. If your loved one sustained a spinal cord injury, their whole future might be affected. In turn, your future may be affected as well, as you may have to act as a caregiver for your loved one. If you need additional help, please contact my office. I can give you the resources that you need to overcome this difficult situation.

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