Spinal Cord Injury

Potential Causes of Spinal Cord Dysfunction

  • Injuries that narrow the space for the spinal cord: broken bones in your back or neck and torn ligaments that cause vertebrae to move in different directions.
  • Diseases that affect the bones and joints and compress the cord: arthritis, osteoporosis, stenosis, spondylolisthesis, and cancer.
  • Tumors near the spine that compress the spinal cord.
  • Blocked blood supply to the spinal cord which causes death of the tissue.
  • Motor vehicle accidents (36.5%)
  • Acts of violence (14.3%): gunshot wounds, stab wounds, and fragments from explosions.
  • Falls (28.5%)
  • Sports (9.2%)
  • Infections


  • Gender: majority (up to 80.7%) are male.
  • Average Onset: 42.6

Types and Levels of Injury

Tetraplegia (Formally referred to as Quadriplegia)

  • Spinal cord injury that is at the cervical level, C1-C8 (in the neck).
  • The cervical nerve roots supply messages to the arms and hands and muscles that control breathing.
  • Numbness and weakness occurs in the arm and hands, breathing may be more difficult.
  • Everything below the level of the injury is effected including the trunk and legs.


  • Spinal cord injury that is at a thoracic, lumbar, or sacral level.
  • These levels supply messages to the trunk and legs.
  • Arm function is spared.
  • Numbness and weakness or loss of movement and sensation occurs below the level of injury.

Complete SCI

  • No voluntary movement and no feeling exists below the level of injury.
  • Absent sensory and motor function in the lowest sacral segment (S5 the peri-anal area).

Incomplete SCI

  • Only partial damage occurred to the spinal cord allowing some nerve fibers to still be intact.
  • Some voluntary movement and feeling is present below the level of injury and in the lowest sacral segment (S5).

Anterior Cord Syndrome

  • Injury to the motor and sensory pathways in the anterior portion of the spinal cord.
  • Loss of ability to feel pain and changes in temperature.

Central Cord Syndrome

  • Damage to the large nerve fibers that carry information directly from the cerebral cortex (brain) to the spinal cord.
  • May cause paralysis and/or loss of fine control of movements in the arms and hands with less impairment of the legs.
  • Sensory loss below the site of injury and loss of bladder control may occur.
  • Amount and type of functional loss is related to the severity of damage to the nerves of the spinal cord.

Posterior Cord Syndrome

  • Typically occur with presence of a tumor or spinal artery infarct.
  • Loss of motor function.
  • Loss of proprioception, vibration, and two point discrimination.
  • This type of injury is very rare.

Brown-Sequard Syndrome

  • Damage to the right or left half of the spinal cord that causes paralysis on the same side of the injury.
  • Loss of pain and temperature on the opposite side of the injury.
  • Loss of ability to sense position, loss of deep touch and vibration on side of injury.

Conus Medullaris

  • Injury at the terminal end of the spinal cord and lumbar nerve roots below the L1 vertebrae.
  • Sacral segments may show preserved reflexes.
  • Bowel and bladder function may be spastic or flaccid based on the nerves injured.

Cauda Equina

  • Injury that occurs in the lumbosacral nerve roots.
  • Areflexic bowel, bladder, and legs.

Upper Motor Neuron Injury

  • Occurs with complete injuries.
  • Connection between the brain and the body below the level of injury is disrupted.
  • LMNs remain intact and continue to carry out reflex actions (without limits set by brain) so spasticity occurs.

Lower Motor Neuron Injury

  • At the lower tip of the spinal cord (cauda equina).
  • Causes impaired reflex actions.
  • Muscles no longer have nerve contact to stimulate them so spasticity does not occur.

Spinal Concussion

  • Caused by a sudden, violent jolt that injures the tissues around the spinal cord.
  • Can be complete or incomplete Generally resolves within one or two days.

Spinal Contusion (Bruise)

  • Bleeding occurs in the spinal column which can cause death of the neurons.
  • May produce symptoms including: numbness, tingling, electric shock-like sensations, and burning in the arms and legs.
  • Symptoms may or may not resolve.

Related Locations

Upcoming Classes/Events