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Two Types Of Spinal Cord Injury

There Are Two Types of Spinal Cord Injury That Could Leave You Unable to Work

Spinal cord injuries can have life-long effects on the injured as well as their family and friends. The more educated the patient and loved ones are, the better equipped they are to advocate for his or her needs and interests. Knowing the two types of spinal cord injury helps you understand what your doctor is saying, ask intelligent questions, and avoid errors. There are two main categories of spinal cord injuries: Complete and Incomplete.

Complete Spinal Cord Injuries

Complete injuries or SCIs, are the most serious and occur when the spinal cord is injured, eliminating the brain’s ability to send signals below the injury site. For an injury impacting the lumbar spinal cord, for example, it can lead to paralysis below the waist while preserving your motor functions in your upper body and arms (paraplegia). For complete injuries in the cervical spine, however, this often leads to a loss of motor function in the lower and upper body (tetraplegia, which is also known as quadriplegia).

Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries

Incomplete or SCIs, commonly result from compression or damage being inflicted to the spinal cord that reduces the brain’s ability to send signals below the injury site. Because of the partially-compromised condition of the spinal cord, incomplete injuries vary drastically from person to person. Some sensory and motor functions may be slightly compromised in some or nearly eliminated in others. Additionally, some incomplete injuries result in triplegia, or the loss of sensation and movement in one arm and both legs.

spinal cord injury types

Incomplete spinal cord injuries are increasingly common, thanks in part to better treatment and increased knowledge about how to respond—and how not to respond—due to improved spinal cord injury research. These now account for more than 60% of spinal cord injuries*, which means we're making real progress toward better treatment for SCI rehabilitation.

Some of the most common types of incomplete or partial spinal cord injuries include:

  • Anterior cord syndrome: This type of injury damages the front of the spinal cord, motor and sensory pathways in the spinal cord. You may retain some sensation, but struggle with movement.
  • Central cord syndrome: This injury occurs in the center of the cord, and damages nerves that carry signals from the brain to the spinal cord. Loss of fine motor skills, paralysis of the arms, and partial impairment—usually less pronounced—in the legs are common. Some survivors also suffer a loss of bowel or bladder control, or lose the ability to sexually function.
  • Brown-Sequard syndrome: This does damage to one side of the spinal cord. The injury may be more pronounced on one side of the body; for instance, movement may be impossible on the right side, but may be fully retained on the left. The degree to which Brown-Sequard patients are injured greatly varies from patient to patient.

Knowing the location of your injury and whether or not the injury is complete can help you begin researching your prognosis and asking your doctor intelligent questions about your SCI rehabilitation. Doctors assign different labels to spinal cord injuries depending upon the nature of those injuries. The most common types of spinal cord injuries include:

  • Tetraplegia: These are typically the most severe, producing varying degrees of paralysis of all limbs. Sometimes known as quadriplegia, tetraplegia eliminates your ability to move below the site of the injury, and may produce difficulties with bladder and bowel control, respiration, and other routine functions. The higher up on the cervical spinal cord the injury is, the more severe symptoms will likely be.
  • Paraplegia: This occurs when sensation and movement are removed from the lower half of the body, including the legs. These injuries are the product of damage to the thoracic spinal cord. As with cervical spinal cord injuries, injuries are typically more severe when they are closer to the top vertebra.
  • Triplegia: Triplegia causes a loss of sensation and movement in one arm and both legs, and is typically the product of an incomplete spinal cord injury.

Incomplete spinal cord injuries are more common than complete injuries. According to, over 60% of all injuries to the spinal cord are incomplete. This is because medical professionals know the proper ways to respond to this type of injury in order to avoid complicating it. There are three common types of incomplete spinal injuries:

  • Anterior Cord Syndrome: An anterior injury is found at the spinal cord's front. In this type of injury the sensory pathways and motor are damaged.
  • Central Cord Syndrome: A central injury is found at the cord's center and involves nerve damage.
  • Brown-Sequard Syndrome: A Brown-Sequard injury occurs when one side of the spinal cord has been injured.

Complete Spinal Cord Injuries

Complete spinal cord injuries are less common but more severe. There are three types of complete spinal cord injuries:

  • Tetraplegia: The most severe type of complete spinal cord injury is Tetraplegia. This causes paralysis and can affect every limb. Its location on the cervical spine dictates exactly how severe this injury is.
  • Paraplegia: Paraplegia involves the injured losing complete movement and sensation of body parts.
  • Triplegia: Triplegia typically results from complications arising in a spinal cord injury classified as incomplete.

While we hope you never experience a spinal injury, if you or your loved ones are injured on the job, in somebody’s pool or on a boat, let the Anastopoulo Law firm represent you to get compensation you may be entitled to due to injury, medical bills or lost time at work. Call us at 1-800-313-2546.

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