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.
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.