Effects of Spinal Cord Injury

The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that runs down the middle of the back from the base of the brain to the waist. Bones surround and protect the spinal cord and are called vertebrae. There are eight vertebrae in the neck, called the cervical vertebrae, and there are twelve in the back called thoracic vertebrae.

A spinal cord injury (SCI) occurs when there is damage to the spinal cord causing a loss of function. The most frequent causes of SCI are automobile accidents (36%), violence (28.9%), or falls (21.2%). Diseases, such as spina bifida and polio, can also result in SCI. A person does not have to sever their spinal cord to cause SCI, and in most cases, the spinal cord remains intact. Also, a person breaking their neck or back may not sustain a SCI if only the vertebrae are affected.

Types of Spinal Cord Injuries

There are two types of injury associated with SCI, “complete” and “incomplete” injuries. A complete injury means there is no function below the level of the injury and both sides of the body are equally affected. With an incomplete injury, there is some movement and/or sensation below the level of the injury and both sides of the body may not be equally impacted.

Levels of Injury and Paralysis

Vertebrae Level

Possible Physical Results

Cervical Level


Cervical C1-C4

Often require a ventilator to breathe

Cervical C5

Shoulder and biceps control can remain, but wrist and hand movements do not

Cervical C6

May add wrist control, but no hand movement

Cervical C7 & Thoracic T1

May be able to straighten arms, but may have dexterity problems with hands and fingers

Thoracic Level 

Paraplegia, where hands are not affected

Thoracic T1-T8

May be poor trunk control as a result of the lack of abdominal muscle control

Thoracic T9-T12

Allow for good sitting balance from abdominal muscle and trunk control 

Lumbar (lower back) and Sacral Regions

Results in a decrease in control of the hip flexors and legs

In addition to the above issues, SCI victims may also have a loss of bladder or bowel control, loss of sexual function, low blood pressure, reduced control of body temperature, the inability to sweat below the level of injury, and chronic pain. 

Have You Or A Loved One Suffered A Brain Or Spinal Cord Injury?

If you've suffered a brain or spinal cord injury you need to speak with an experienced attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our office directly at 816.471.5111 to schedule your free consultation.

James Roswold
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James Roswold is a Kansas & Missouri personal injury, workers comp, and medical malpractice attorney.