A doctor pointing at an xray of a spinal cord injury with as pen.
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Types of Spinal Cord Injuries

Understanding Spinal Cord Injuries: Types, Symptoms, and Treatment

Spinal cord injuries (SCIs) are among the most severe and life-altering traumas a person can endure. They can lead to a wide range of physical and neurological impairments, affecting mobility, sensation, and even organ function.

Understanding the types of spinal cord injuries, their symptoms, and available treatments is crucial for both patients and caregivers. In this comprehensive blog, we look into the various types of SCIs, their classifications, and the implications they have on an individual’s life.

A spinal cord damage occurs when there is trauma to the spinal cord or spinal column. 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.

Car accidents and motorcycle accidents are a significant cause of spinal cord injuries. Motor vehicle accidents are a common cause of spinal cord injuries. These injuries along with traumatic brain injury some of the worst accidents a personal can sustain in a MVA accident.

What is the Spinal Cord?

Before diving into the types of spinal cord injuries, it’s essential to understand the anatomy of the brain and spinal cord. The spinal cord is a bundle of nerve cells that runs from the base of the brain down the back.

It is encased within the vertebral column, or spine, which serves as its protective structure for the nerve cells. The brain and spinal cord play interconnected roles in transmitting sensory and motor information between the brain and the rest of the body.

You can learn more about the spinal cord in the detailed video below:

YouTube Link: https://youtu.be/xXWsQrl1N7s?si=DgqnvOy0RdHh8MYD

Types of Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injuries can be broadly classified into two categories: complete and incomplete injuries.

  1. Spinal cord injuries can be broadly classified into two categories: complete and incomplete injuries.

    1. Complete Spinal Cord Injury: In a complete Spinal Cord Injury, there is a total loss of sensation and motor function below the level of injury. This means that the individual has no voluntary movement or feeling in the affected areas. Complete SCIs often result in paralysis, which can be either tetraplegia (also known as quadriplegia), affecting all four limbs and the trunk, or paraplegia, affecting the lower half of the body.

    2. Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury: In an incomplete Spinal Cord Injury, some sensory or motor function remains below the level of injury. The degree of impairment can vary widely, depending on the extent and location of the damage. Individuals with incomplete SCIs may retain some movement or sensation in certain parts of their body.

    For individuals who have sustained severe spinal cord injuries, it is crucial to seek help from experienced personal injury lawyers to ensure they receive the compensation they deserve.

Classifications of Spinal Cord Injuries:

Spinal cord injuries are further classified based on their location along the spinal cord and the resulting neurological deficits.

  • Cervical Spinal Cord Injuries: Injuries to the cervical region (neck) of the spinal cord can have the most severe consequences, as they often affect both the upper and lower extremities, as well as respiratory function. Tetraplegia is common in cervical SCIs, with varying degrees of impairment depending on the specific level of injury.

  • Thoracic Spinal Cord Injuries: Injuries to the thoracic region (mid-back) of the spinal cord typically result in paraplegia, affecting the trunk and lower extremities. These injuries may still allow for some upper body function, depending on the level of damage.

  • Lumbar and Sacral Spinal Cord Injuries: Injuries to the lumbar and sacral regions (lower back) of the spinal cord primarily affect the lower extremities and may result in varying degrees of paralysis or impaired function below the waist.

a person putting on a neck brace
Injuries to the cervical region (neck) of the spinal cord can have the most severe consequences, as they often affect both the upper and lower extremities.

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;
  • Loss of sensation or feeling in the affected areas;
  • Loss of motor function or paralysis;
  • Difficulty breathing or respiratory problems (in cervical injuries);
  • Sexual dysfunction;
  • Breathing difficulties;
  • Lower blood pressure (or difficulty regulating it);
  • Lower body temperature;
  • Chronic pain or neuropathic pain; and/or
  • Swelling in spine (which can lead to problems in other areas of the body).


Spinal cord injuries can lead to paralysis, one of the most serious injuries resulting from such incidents. 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. Filing a personal injury claim is crucial to seek compensation for these expenses.

A wheelchair in the forefront and a patient in the background getting rehabilitation for paraplegia.
Rehabilitation programs tailored to the individual's needs can help improve mobility, strength, and function.

Treatment Options for Spinal Cord Injuries:

Treatment for spinal cord injuries aims to stabilize the spine, prevent further damage, and maximize functional recovery. Depending on the severity of the injury, treatment options may include:

  • Immobilization: Immobilizing the spine using braces, collars, or traction devices to prevent further injury.
  • Surgery: Surgical intervention may be necessary to realign the spine, remove fragments of bone or tissue, or stabilize the injured area.
  • Rehabilitation: Rehabilitation programs tailored to the individual’s needs can help improve mobility, strength, and function.
  • Assistive Devices: Wheelchairs, braces, and other assistive devices can help individuals with spinal cord injuries maintain independence and improve quality of life.
  • Medications: Medications may be prescribed to manage pain, muscle spasticity, or other symptoms associated with spinal cord injuries.
  • Experimental Therapies: Emerging therapies such as stem cell transplantation, neurostimulation, and robotic exoskeletons are being researched for their potential to improve outcomes for individuals with SCI.
See Paraplegia and Tetraplegia (Quadriplegia) – How family members can help

Read our blog at:  https://clginjurylaw.ca/paraplegia-and-tetraplegia-quadriplegia-how-family-members-can-help/

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Canadian SCI Statistics

  • Estimated 85,556 people with spinal cord injury in Canada.

  • Approximately 44,000 sustained an SCI as a result of traumatic injury (motor vehicle crashes, falls, etc.).

  • Estimated 4,529 new cases of spinal cord injury in Canada each year, 1,786 as the result of traumatic injury and the rest as a consequence of diseases and other non-traumatic causes.

  • The average age of RHSCIR participants with tSCI was 54 years old in 2020.
    76% of participants were male and 24% were female.

  • Almost half of new traumatic injuries occur in people 15 to 39 (mainly male) as a result of motor vehicle accidents, sporting accidents, and other external causes.

  • The incidence and prevalence of non-traumatic SCI is on the rise. Approximately 50 per cent of new cases of SCI result from non-traumatic injuries caused by infection or disease (including cancer) rather than traumatic causes.

  • Cases of SCI are projected to increase over the next two decades, with the number of new traumatic and non-traumatic cases increasing from the 4,700 estimated for 2010 to 6,400 new cases estimated in 2030; and from the current estimated 86,000 persons living with SCI in 2010 to 121,000 persons in 2030.

  • Canada’s aging population is having an impact on the mean age of people who suffer an SCI and the type of care and services required.

  • In the coming decades, people who suffer a spinal cord injury are likely to also be older, and the causes of these injuries will shift e.g., older people falling rather than young males in motor vehicle collisions.

  • The current annual economic burden of traumatic SCI in Canada is approximately $3.6 billion, of which $1.8 billion is associated with direct health care costs.

Charts for SCI
Source: https://praxisinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/RHSCIR-2020-Report-final.pdf


Spinal cord injuries can have devastating consequences, impacting every aspect of a person’s life. However, advancements in medical technology and rehabilitation strategies offer hope for improved outcomes and quality of life for individuals living with SCIs.

By understanding the types, symptoms, and treatment options for spinal cord injuries, patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals can work together to optimize care and support for those affected by these life-altering injuries.

Helping Injured Clients

Are you or a loved one suffering from a spinal cord injury? For over 35 years, CLG Injury Lawyers have helped thousands of injured clients. We fight for your rights to receive the maximum compensation you deserve. Providing you the Peace of Mind to focus on your Road to Recovery. Our experienced personal injury lawyers offer a free, no obligation case evaluation. 

To find out more about SCIs go to our Spinal Cord Injury Page or Contact Us today to talk to one of compassionate lawyers to see how we can help you.

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