Types of Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal cord injuries occur when there is trauma to the spinal cord. A severed spinal cord results in permanent paralysis; however, the spinal cord does not have to be severed for the injuries to result in a loss of movement or sensation. 

In most injuries, the spinal cord remains intact, however, it may be damaged to such an extent that it results in a loss of feeling or mobility. Sometimes this is only temporary but other times the damage may be permanent. The affected areas of paralysis will depend upon where the injury occurred.

While spinal cord injuries can happen under a number of circumstances, approximately 36% of them occur from a motor vehicle accident.

Types of Spinal Cord Injuries

There are two different types of spinal cord injuries that can result from a serious car accident. In general, they are divided into either a complete or incomplete injury. Acomplete injury involves a complete loss of function below the area where the injury occurred. There is no longer an ability to feel or move. An incomplete injury involves some loss of function below the area where the injury occurred. It may affect one limb more than another or certain parts of the body may not function while other parts do.

Other Effects of Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injuries don’t just result in a loss of movement or feeling; they can impact other areas of the body. Some of the other effects of spinal cord injuries include:

  • Bowel/Bladder dysfunction;
  • Sexual dysfunction;
  • Breathing difficulties;
  • Lower blood pressure (or difficulty regulating it);
  • Lower body temperature;
  • Chronic pain; and/or
  • Swelling in spine (which can lead to problems in other areas of the body).


Spinal cord injuries can lead to paralysis. Paralysis may be either incomplete or complete and result in a person either becoming paraplegic or quadriplegic.

Where the injury occurred will make a difference in the type of injuries sustained in a spinal cord injury. Paraplegia occurs when the injury is below the 1st thoracic spinal nerve. While a paraplegic will have full voluntary use of their arms, they may be unable to move their legs or abdomen. The degree of paralysis to the legs and abdomen will vary from one individual to another.

Quadriplegia, also known as Tetraplegia, occurs when the injury is above the 1st thoracic vertebra. This results in an individual having no voluntary movement of their arms or legs. The chest and abdomen are also affected, which can lead to difficulties with breathing or coughing.


Both types of paralysis will change the quality of a person’s life and result in lifelong physical therapy. In addition to physical therapy, other types of medical care can cause a financial burden.

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