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The Spinal Cord
Other Complications
Facts and Figures

- About Spinal Cord Injuries -

What are Spinal Cord Injuries?


Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) is damage to the spinal cord that results in a loss of function, such as mobility or feeling. Frequent causes of damage include trauma (car accident, gunshot,  falls, etc.) or disease (polio, spina bifida, Friedreich's Ataxia, etc.). The spinal cord does not have to be severed in order for the loss of functioning to occur. In fact, in most people with SCI the spinal cord is intact, but the damage to it results in loss of functioning. 

What are the effects of spinal cord injuries?

The effects of a spinal cord injury depend on both the level of injury (i.e. where the injury to the spine occurred) and the type of injury (Complete or Incomplete). 

      Tetraplegia (quadriplegia) refers to injuries to the cervical spinal cord (the neck), and results in paralysis of all four limbs. 

      Paraplegia refers to injuries below the cervical spine, and results in paralysis of the legs and portions of the trunk. 

      A complete injury means that there is no function below the level of the injury; no sensation and no voluntary movement. Both sides of the body are equally affected.

      An incomplete injury means that there is some functioning below the primary level of the injury. A person with an incomplete injury may be able to move one limb more than another, may be able to feel parts of the body that cannot be moved, or may have more functioning on one side of the body than the other. With the advances in treatment of SCI, icomplete injuries are becoming more common. 

      In general, the higher in the spinal column the injury occurs, the more dysfunction a person will experience. The site of damage on the spine determines which area of the body is affected:


        The eight vertebra in the neck are called the Cervical vertebra. The top vertebra is called C-1, the next is C-2, etc. Cervical injuries usually cause loss of function in the arms and legs, resulting in quadriplegia. 

        The twelve vertebra in the chest  are called the Thoracic vertebra. The first thoracic vertebra, T-1, is the vertebra where the top rib attaches. Injuries in the thoracic region usually affect the chest and the legs and result in paraplegia. 

        The vertebra in the lower back  between the thoracic vertebra and the pelvis (hip bone) are the Lumbar vertebra.  

        The Sacral vertebra run from the pelvis to the end of the spinal column.

        Injuries to the five Lumbar vertebra (L-1 through L-5), and similarly to the five Sacral vertebra (S-1 through S-5) generally result in some loss of functioning in the hips and legs, as well as the loss of sexual function.

Source: SCI Information Network


What is the Spinal Cord?

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Copyright 2001 Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Genetic Testing
Last modified: 04/02/04