Types of Spinal Cord Injuries

A spinal cord injury (SCI) is considered the most devastating orthopedic injury. There are two kinds of  (SCI)—complete and incomplete. Where the injury has occurred along the spine—the cervical, thoracic or lumbar area—can determine the severity.


  • Complete Injury
    In a complete injury, a person loses all ability to feel and voluntarily move below the level of the injury. Both sides of the body are equally affected. Complete injuries can occur at any level of the spinal cord.
  • Incomplete Injury
    In an incomplete injury, there is some functioning below the level of the injury. A person may be able to move one limb more than the other, may be able to feel parts of the body that can’t move or may have more functioning on one side of the body than the other. Incomplete injuries can occur at any level of the spinal cord.

Paralysis from a spinal cord injury may be referred to as:

  • Tetraplegia or quadriplegia—the arms, trunk, legs and pelvic organs are all affected.
  • Paraplegia—this paralysis affects all or part of the trunk, legs and pelvic organs.

Cervical (neck) injuries usually result in quadriplegia, those at the thoracic (chest) level and below result in paraplegia, with the hand not affected, according to the National Spinal Cord Injury Association.

In addition to a loss of sensation or motor functioning, those with SCI may also experience dysfunction of the bowel and bladder as well as sexual dysfunction. Those with cervical injuries may also lose the ability to breathe without mechanical aid. Other effects may include low blood pressure, inability to regulate blood pressure, decreased control of body temperature and chronic pain.

Learn more about Spinal Injury Causes.

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