Categories of Spinal Cord Injury

The spinal cord facilitates the brain’s ability to control and regulate the body, so injuries to the cord may damage or even sever this connection, causing functional and mobility impairments or even paralysis.

Spinal cord injuries fall into one of two categories: complete spinal cord injuries or incomplete spinal cord injuries, depending on their effect on the body.

Complete Spinal Cord Injuries

These types of injury are not very common but are the most severe.

The injury consists of damage to the full width of the cord, resulting in a full loss of sensation, movement and function below the site of the injury.

The general rule is that the higher the area of injury to the spinal cord, the worse the extent and severity of the paralysis.

These injuries are sub-categorised as either complete paraplegia or complete tetraplegia.

Complete Paraplegia

Where there is complete damage in the thoracic, lumbar or sacral regions of the spinal cord, the arms are not affected but there results a loss of sensation, movement and function below the chest.

Complete Tetraplegia

This is the most severe of all spinal injuries that do not result in death, as there is a loss of sensation, movement and function in the whole body below the point of injury which is situated in the vertebrae in the neck.

Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries

This is more common but less severe than complete spinal cord injuries.

This type of injury does not sever the full width of the spinal cord but the injury may seriously damage it, resulting in limited sensation, movement and function.

Incomplete spinal cord injuries are sub-categorised according to the location of the injury within the spinal column:

  1. Anterior Cord Syndrome: the front of the spinal cord
  2. Posterior Cord Syndrome: the back of the spinal cord
  3. Central Cord Syndrome: the centre of the spinal cord
  4. Brown-Sequard Syndrome: one side of the spinal cord
  5. Cauda Equina Syndrome: the nerves in the lower region of the column

While the resulting effects of incomplete spinal cord injures are not as severe as complete spinal cord injuries, they should not be dismissed as minor due the fact that they can have a life-changing impact.