Types of spinal cord injuries and their recovery

The spinal cord can be injured by falls, accidents, or certain diseases. The severity of the injury and the location of the injury to the spinal cord will determine how a spinal injury affects an individual.

The spinal cord, a bundle of nerves that transmit messages from the brain to the rest of the body, is an important part of our bodies. It is essential for a person to feel and control different body parts such as their bladder, arms, legs and bladder.

A spinal cord injury can be treated but there is no cure. Rehabilitation and adaptive devices are available to help people gain more independence and improve the quality of their lives.


Different symptoms can be seen depending on the severity of a spinal injury.

If you have any of these symptoms after an accident or injury, it is important to seek medical attention.

  • Extreme pain in the neck, back, or head
  • Inability to walk or weakness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Balance and coordination difficulties
  • Numbness or tingling at the extremities
  • Loss of bladder control or bowel control

These symptoms do not necessarily indicate that someone has a spinal injury. Sometimes, symptoms can be caused by a broken backbone. This may cause pressure to the spinal cord.

However, spinal cord injuries can be very serious so it is important to get emergency medical attention immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.

If you are with someone who has suffered a back injury, it is important to not lift or move them. This could cause further damage.

Long-term effects

Some or all of these symptoms may be experienced by people with spinal cord injuries throughout their lives:

  • Loss of movement in certain parts of your body
  • Loss of feeling, or change in feeling
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Pain can be mild or severe and range in severity
  • Muscle spasms
  • Abnormal reflexes
  • Loss of sexual function
  • Infertility
  • Balance problems or difficulty walking
  • Coughing or difficulty breathing

The severity and location of the injury will determine the symptoms of a person.


There are many causes of spinal cord injuries, including:

  • Sports collisions and hard impacts
  • automobile accidents
  • falls
  • When diving, hit the head
  • Gunshot wounds are an example of injuries caused by violent acts.
  • Certain types of cancer
  • arthritis
  • Certain types of infections
  • Some medical conditions, like Spina Bifida or Polio.

Risk factors

Any age can sustain a spinal cord injury. Certain factors can increase your chances of suffering this type of injury.

According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistics Center:

  • The average age of a spinal cord injury victim is 43 years.
  • 78% of all new cases involving spinal cord injuries are caused by males.
  • Nearly 40% of spinal cord injuries are caused by vehicle crashes, with the rest coming from falls.

The American Association of Neurological Surgeons is a state:

  • Motor vehicle accidents are the most common cause of spinal cord injuries in young people.
  • For people over 65 years, falls are the most common cause of spinal cord injuries.
  • Males account for up to 90% of all sports-related injuries to the spinal cord.

Types and Severity of spinal cord injuries

There are many types of spinal cord injuries. Doctors will usually classify them as complete or incomplete spinal cord injuries.

A complete injury is when a person loses all sense and control of their body below the injury to the spinal cord.

An incomplete spinal cord injury can still cause some sensation or control in the affected areas.

It is also determined by the location of the injury. The spinal cord is divided into four sections:

  • The cervical spine (vertebrae A1 through C7, which include a total eight cervical nerve root)
  • thoracic spine (vertebrae from T1 to T12).
  • Lumbar spine (vertebrae from L1 to L5)
  • sacral spine (vertebrae S1-S5)

Each section controls different parts. Most people will feel some loss of control or feeling in the limbs below the spinal cord injury.

Cervical spinal injury

The cervical spine is the top portion of the spine. This includes the neck vertebrae. Because cervical spine injuries are the closest to the brain, and can affect the largest part of the body most severely, they are often the most severe.

A cervical injury can often cause tetraplegia (also known as quadriplegia), which is a partial or complete paralysis of the four legs and the torso.

Thoracic spinal injury

The upper and middle parts of the back are covered by the thoracic spine.

Thoracic spine injuries often cause damage to the lower back, abdomen, and legs. A thoracic spine injury can cause paraplegia. This means they may experience paralysis in their trunk or legs. Paraplegia is a condition that allows paraplegia patients to use their arms, hands and legs.

Lumbar spinal injury

The lowest part of the spine, the lumbar spine, is located. Because they can support more weight, the vertebrae in this area are larger than those in other parts of the spine.

While a person may experience some loss of function in their hips or legs from a lumbar spine trauma, they will usually be able to control their upper body. A few people may be able to walk with braces, or even use a wheelchair after a lumbar spine accident.

Sacral spinal injury

The sacral spine is located just above the tailbone. This area is home to the nerves that control the hips, groin and backs the thighs.

A sacral spine injury can result in some function loss in the legs and hips. It can also cause problems with bladder control and bowel control. People with a sacral spinal injury can still walk.