What do you need to know? Our Resources cover everything from managing a spinal cord injury to travel, entitlements and holidays. If you do not find the answer to your query here contact SII on or phone 01-2355317

What is SCI?

A Spinal Cord Injury Explained

One of our Community Team, Deirdre Griffin has developed this short, informative video to explain the impact of a complete and incomplete spinal cord injury.

What is Spinal Cord Injury?

A Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) is damage or trauma to the spinal cord that results in loss or impaired function causing reduced mobility or sensation. Common causes of damage are trauma resulting from a car accident, gunshot, falls, sports injuries or disease, such as Transverse Myelitis and Guillian Barre Friedreich’s Ataxia. SCI is very different from back injuries such as ruptured discs, spinal stenosis or pinched nerves. The latter involves musculoskeletal and peripheral nerve changes where a spinal cord injury involves damage to the central nervous system.

spinal-illustrationInjury Level

The level of injury is the exact point in the spinal cord at which damage has occurred. The levels are determined by counting the nerves from the top of the neck downwards. These nerves are grouped into four different areas: Cervical, Thoracic, Lumbar and Sacral. If you have injured the spinal cord in your neck you will have injured one of your cervical nerves (1-7). An injury like this would be referred to as C1, C2 etc. If you have injured the spinal cord in your back, you will have injured either Thoracic nerves (1-12) or lumbar nerves (1-5). A back injury would be referred to as T6, L1 etc.

Paraplegia: Damage to the spinal cord in your back will result in paraplegia. This affects the movement and sensation in your legs and possibly some stomach muscles.

Tetraplegia: Damage to the spinal cord in your neck will result in tetraplegia. Tetraplegia affects movement and sensation in all four limbs, as well as stomach and chest muscles.

Movement and Sensation

The level of injury to your spine indicates the point at which sensation may be lost. This may affect the movement of the arms and legs as well as breathing, bladder, bowel, sexual function, sweating and temperature control.

It is important to be aware that loss of movement and sensation is variable between individuals, even those who have damaged their spinal cord in the same place.

What does Complete and Incomplete mean?

Complete and Incomplete indicates the type of spinal cord injury you have sustained. If there is no movement or sensation from the injury level or below then your injury level is complete. If you have some muscle function or sensation below your injury then your injury is incomplete.

What is the ASIA Impairment Scale?

The ASIA impairment scale is another way of describing the functionality of a person with spinal cord injury. The ASIA scale is fast becoming the international standard of classification so for this reason you may sometimes hear health professionals refer to your injury as ASIA A, B, C, D or E.

The definition of each classification is:

A = Complete: No motor or sensory function is preserved in the sacral segments S4-S5.

B = Incomplete: Sensory but not motor function is preserved below the neurological level and includes the sacral segments S4-S5.

C = Incomplete: Motor function is preserved below the neurological level, and more than half of key muscles below the neurological level have a muscle grade less than 3.

D = Incomplete: Motor function is preserved below the neurological level, and at least half of key muscles below the neurological level have a muscle grade of 3 or more.

E = Normal: motor and sensory function are normal.

If you are unsure of the words being used to describe your injury, always ask your health professional for an explanation that you can understand.


What is Spinal Shock?

Following injury, the body initially goes into a stage of ‘spinal shock’.   This is the total loss of all reflex functions and all movement below the level of the lesion, like a ‘blackout effect’. To keep the injured person alive, the care must compensate for the arrest of vital functions such as respiration and the elimination of urine and fecal waste. This condition may last several hours, days or even weeks. It may be difficult to determine the extent of the injury during spinal shock.



Spinal Injuries Ireland,
Unit G3,
Pottery Business Centre,
Pottery Road,
Dun Laoghaire,
Co. Dublin,

Tel: +353-1-6532180