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The Levels of Spinal Cord Injury, Explained

The Levels of Spinal Cord Injury, ExplainedThink of your spinal cord as the “information superhighway” of your body. Its job is a crucial one—carrying messages back and forth from the brain, telling your body how and when to function. Any injury to the spinal cord is serious and not to be taken lightly. In fact, when most people hear the words “spinal injury,” the first thing they usually visualize is the worst-case scenario of someone with total paralysis in a wheelchair.

However, total paralysis is only one level of spinal cord injury. There are actually several levels of spinal cord injury (SCI), and each has a wide range of symptoms and outcomes. The many spinal cord injury and rehabilitation centers in the Tennessee area, like Siskin Hospital’s spinal cord injury program in Chattanooga, can help patients with their unique types of injuries.

Types and levels of SCIs

Spinal cord injuries are classified into types, and then into levels.

First, the two types of SCI are complete and incomplete. A complete injury means that there is no function below the site of the injury. A patient with a complete SCI has no movement or sensation, and both sides of their body are equally affected. A patient with an incomplete SCI has some function below the site of the injury. They might have some feeling in some parts of the body, or more movement in one limb than other, or more function on one side of the body.

Levels of SCI are more complex. Typically, however, the higher a spinal cord injury occurs, the more devastating the injury. The injury levels correspond with the levels of the spine, which, in descending order, are: cervical (C), thoracic (T), and lumbar (L). Levels of injury with corresponding symptoms generally look like this:

  • C2 to C3 injuries: Cut off breathing function and are usually fatal
  • C4: Require a ventilator and result in quadriplegia (paralysis of both the arms and legs)
  • C5: Quadriplegia but with some shoulder and elbow function
  • C6: Quadriplegia but with some shoulder, elbow, and wrist function
  • C7: Quadriplegia but with some shoulder, elbow, wrist, and hand function
  • C8: Quadriplegia with arm function and hand weakness
  • T1–T6: Paraplegia (paralysis of the legs and lower body) with full function of arms but loss of function below mid-chest
  • T6–T12: Paraplegia control of torso but loss of function below waist
  • L1–L5: Paraplegia with varying control of muscles in the legs

Other symptoms caused by spinal cord injuries can include muscle spasticity, loss of bladder control, chronic pain, breathing problems, heart and blood pressure issues, sexual dysfunction, and digestive problems.

According to the Reeve Foundation, more than 1.2 Americans live with paralysis from an SCI, and more than half of those injuries are in the cervical region. The most common causes? Sports injuries, car accidents, falls, and violence.

Spinal cord injuries require continuous, lifelong treatment, especially when the injury is catastrophic. An SCI can throw your world into chaos, and put financial and emotional strain on your life. The spinal cord injury lawyers at Wagner Workers Compensation & Personal Injury Lawyers can provide you with experienced and skilled representation to help secure the compensation you deserve for your injury. We serve clients in Chattanooga and Cleveland, TN, in North Georgia, and all surrounding counties. Call us today at 423-756-7923 or complete our contact form to schedule your free consultation.