What are the levels of spinal cord injuries?
The National SCI Statistical Center reported that since 2015, 38.6% of spinal cord injuries are a result of Motor Vehicle Accidents. Even a minor spinal cord injury can be devastating.
The spinal cord, a critical component of our nervous system, plays a vital role in transmitting messages between the brain and the rest of the body. When an injury occurs to the spinal cord, it can lead to varying degrees of impairment, depending on the level of the injury. It helps to understand the levels of spinal cord injuries and how the level impacts the way the condition will affect the body.
Cervical spinal injuries
The cervical region, or the neck, is the highest segment of the spinal cord and consists of seven vertebrae (C1 to C7). Injuries in this region can result in significant impairments and are often the most severe. High cervical injuries (C1 to C4) can lead to tetraplegia, also known as quadriplegia, which affects both the upper and lower limbs. Lower cervical injuries (C5 to C7) may result in varying degrees of arm and hand impairment, with the potential for limited hand and wrist function.
Thoracic spinal injuries
The thoracic region, located in the upper and mid-back, contains 12 vertebrae (T1 to T12). Injuries in this area can lead to paraplegia, which affects the lower limbs and trunk. Depending on the specific vertebrae affected, individuals may have limited or no sensation or motor function in the legs.
Lumbar spinal injuries
The lumbar region, located in the lower back, consists of five vertebrae (L1 to L5). Injuries here may also result in paraplegia, impacting the lower limbs and lower trunk. The degree of impairment can vary depending on the level of the injury.
Sacral spinal injuries
The sacral region includes five fused vertebrae (S1 to S5) and is at the base of the spine. Injuries to this area primarily affect bowel, bladder and sexual function, as well as some control over the legs. Individuals with sacral injuries may have more mobility and sensation than those with higher-level injuries.
Complete vs. incomplete injuries
In addition to considering the level of the injury, it is important to differentiate between complete and incomplete spinal cord injuries. Complete injuries result in the total loss of sensory and motor function below the level of the injury. In contrast, incomplete injuries mean that some sensory or motor function remains below the level of the injury.
Understanding the levels of spinal injuries helps in assessing the potential for recovery and planning for rehabilitation and long-term care. It can also help the individual know what to expect and how to adapt to the challenges posed by the injury.