Spinal cord injuries fall under two broad categories: complete and incomplete. A complete spinal cord injury indicates a total loss of sensation, voluntary movement and function below the level of injury on both sides of the body.
An incomplete spinal cord injury allows for limited function below the primary level of injury. For example, some individuals have sensation and feeling in parts of their bodies, while others can move one limb more than another and may also have higher level functioning on one side of the body.
The spinal cord injury level is oftentimes very telling in predicting the areas and parts of the body that may be affected by paralysis and/or loss of function and sensation.
Effects of Spinal Cord Injuries
Listed below are some common correlations between loss of function and paralysis and the location or level of the spinal cord injury:
* Severe cervical injuries (neck) oftentimes result in quadriplegia;
* Injuries above level C-4 oftentimes require ventilators and additional medical devices to aid the injured in breathing;
* Injuries at C-5 cause loss of control of the wrist and/or the hand. Many injured persons however do retain control in the biceps and the shoulders;
* Injuries at C-6 generally result in complete loss of hand function, though many injured persons can still move their wrist;
* C-7 injuries, as well as some T-1 injuries, limit the overall use of the hand and fingers. Most often it is loss of dexterity in the hands and fingers;
* Thoracic level and below injury levels most often lead to paraplegia, though the hands are not affected;
* Injury to levels T-1 to T-8 result in reduced autonomy and control of the torso;
* Injury to lower T levels T-9 to T-12 do not affect the abdominal muscles as much and the injured persons usually retain moderately good balance in the seated position;
Injuries to the Lumbar and Sacral affect the control of the legs and the hips. Decreased range of motion and control are the most common problems.
Other Effects of Spinal Cord Injuries
In addition to the paralysis and loss of or decreased motor skills or sensation, SCI individuals may also have to confront sexual dysfunction, bowel and bladder disorders, loss of voluntary breathing, reduced control of body temperature, chronic pain, and a host of other potential physical internal and external problems.
Mental & Psychological Effects of Spinal Cord Injuries
Perhaps the most difficult aspect to deal with in an SCI is coping with the mental and psychological sides of the injury. Many times the injured person was healthy and physically active, able to conduct his or her business without the assistance of any person or machine. To a certain degree with all spinal cord injury persons, that former life has changed forever. However, life with spinal cord injury can be just as rewarding.