What Are the Types of Spinal Injuries?

Reviewed on 9/16/2021

There are two main categories of spinal cord injuries, which include complete spinal cord injuries and incomplete spinal cord injuries. Complete spinal cord injuries are the more serious type, as the brain is no longer able to send signals to the body below the injury site and can lead to paralysis.
There are two main categories of spinal cord injuries, which include complete spinal cord injuries and incomplete spinal cord injuries. Complete spinal cord injuries are the more serious type, as the brain is no longer able to send signals to the body below the injury site and can lead to paralysis.

The spinal cord has four distinct regions and damage to any part of the spine or the nerves connected to the spine can be affected in a spinal injury. 

There are two main categories of spinal cord injuries: complete and incomplete.

  • Complete spinal cord injuries
    • The most serious type of spinal injury
    • The spinal cord is injured and the brain is no longer able to send signals to the parts of the body below the site of the injury
    • This can lead to paralysis below the waist but preservation of function in the upper body (paraplegia) or loss of function in both the upper and lower body (tetraplegia, more commonly called quadriplegia)
  • Incomplete spinal cord injuries
    • These types of spinal injuries result from compression or damage to the spinal cord that reduces the brain’s ability to send signals below the injury site
    • Incomplete spinal injuries can vary significantly from person to person
      • Common types of incomplete or partial spinal cord injuries include:
        • Anterior cord syndrome: Injury to the front of the spinal cord that damages the motor and sensory pathways in the spinal cord resulting in difficulty with movement but patients may retain some sensation
        • Central cord syndrome: Injury to the center of the spinal cord that damages nerves that carry signals from the brain to the spinal cord commonly resulting in loss of fine motor skills, paralysis of the arms, and partial impairment in the legs; may also cause loss of bowel or bladder control, or loss of sexual function
        • Brown-Sequard syndrome: This injury is damage to one side of the spinal cord and may be more pronounced on one side of the body and movement may be impossible on one side, but can be fully retained on the other

What Are Symptoms of Spinal Injuries?

Symptoms of spinal injuries vary widely and depend on the nature and severity of the injury. 

Some common spinal cord injury symptoms include:

  • Varying degrees of paralysis, including paraplegia and tetraplegia/quadriplegia
  • Difficulty breathing; the need for a respirator
  • Problems with bladder and bowel function
  • Frequent infections
    • Increased risk of infections in patients on a feeding or breathing tube
  • Chronic pain
  • Headaches
  • Bedsores
  • Changes in mood or personality
  • Loss of libido or sexual function
  • Loss of fertility
  • Nerve pain
  • Chronic muscle pain
  • Pneumonia (common in cervical spinal cord injury survivors)

What Causes Spinal Injuries?

Most spinal cord injuries are preventable, and knowing the causes of these injuries can help you take steps to prevent them. 

The leading causes of spinal cord injuries, according to The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, includes: 

  • Automobile accidents
  • Falls
  • Gunshot wounds
  • Diving injuries
  • Motorcycle accidents
  • Falling objects 
  • Medical and surgical complications
  • Pedestrian injuries
  • Bicycle accidents
  • Other causes: 
    • All-terrain vehicle (ATV) accidents
    • Accidents in other vehicles, such as jet skis and boats
    • Penetrating wounds, such as an object entering the brain or spinal cord
    • Winter sports such as snow skiing and snowboarding
    • Football
    • Horseback riding
    • Surfing, including body surfing
    • Other sports-related injuries

In almost all types of injuries, men are more likely to be injured than women.

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How Are Spinal Injuries Diagnosed?

Spinal cord injuries are diagnosed with a patient history including the details of the accident, and a physical examination. 

Tests used to assess the type and severity of the spinal injury include: 

What Is the Treatment for Spinal Injuries?

Treatment for spinal cord injuries varies widely and the prognosis is different for every patient. Some patients can recover fully within months while others receive years of treatment and make little to no progress.

Prompt treatment for a spinal injury begins immediately after the accident and includes: 

  • Remaining still
  • Avoiding movement of the spinal column
  • Prompt emergency care

Once in a hospital’s emergency department, patients will be stabilized because the hours immediately following a spinal cord injury can be critical to a patient's survival. Stabilization may include: 

  • Breathing assistance 
  • A collar to keep the neck still
  • Radiographic (X-ray) evaluation of the spinal area
  • Other procedures to address symptoms 

Once a patient is stabilized, spinal injury treatment may include: 

  • A feeding tube for nutrition 
  • Symptomatic care to make patients more comfortable such as medications for insomnia or chronic pain
  • Lifestyle changes, such as a healthier diet or quitting smoking
  • Physical therapy to help with mobility 
  • Family and individual counseling to learn to cope with the pain and stress of life with a spinal cord injury
  • Surgery as needed to correct any other injury-related problems

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Reviewed on 9/16/2021
References
https://www.spinalcord.com/types-of-spinal-cord-injuries