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What are some the Different Types of Spinal Cord Injury?

By Matt Lalande in Spinal Cord Injuries on September 09, 2020

What are some the Different Types of Spinal Cord Injury?

Your spinal cord is an extremely vital part of your central nervous system, and even a small injury to it can lead to severe and catastrophic disability. For this reason, nature has encased the spinal cord within the thick layers of bone of the spinal column and surrounding muscle. Nevertheless, because it compresses so much function into such a narrow structure, the spinal cord is vulnerable to injury and disease – otherwise called traumatic or non-traumatic (disease related) spinal cord injury.

When your spinal cord is damaged, your body may not function as it did. Your brain and spoinal cord may not be able to transmits messages from and to the brain about different sensations-like temperature, perature, position, and touch-and receives information back regarding movements of the arms, trunk (or torso), and legs. Both of these message relays occur in a matter of milliseconds. For example, when someone pets a cat, sensory receptors in the persons hand send signals along nerves to her spinal cord and up to her brain. The sensation is then interpreted and experienced enced as soft and furry. By contrast, when a person is driving and a cat darts in front of his car, the brain analyzes this event as an emergency and relays a message through the driver’s spinal cord to move his foot and slam on the brakes. Below are several types of spinal cord injury that someone could experience:

Levels of Injury: The Anatomy of The Spinal Cord

In order to fully comprehend different types of spinal cord injury, it is important to understand the anatomy of the spinal cord.


Your spinal cord is a soft, rope-like structure that is made up of millions of nerves and is is surrounded (and protected) by 29 vertebral bones that make up the spinal column. The vertebrae are stacked one on top of another and each has a hole, creating a canal through which your spinal cord passes. The vertebrae are cushioned from one another by spongy material called disks. Ligaments hold the vertebrae in the proper alignment.  The spine is separated into four sections. The cervical segment that constitute the neck, the thoracic segment, that run to the waist and attach to the ribs, the lower spine, or lumbar segment which essentially constitutes the lower back and lastly, the sacrum, or sacral segment, consisting of five fused vertebrae near the buttocks and above the tailbone.

Cervical spine (levels C1 to C8) – is the very top part of the spine, running from the head down the neck, and ending where the neck meets the back and shoulders. Cervical spine injuries are among the most severe types of spinal cord injuries as this is the most narrow section of the spine, and it has a direct physical proximity to the brain.

Thoracic spine (levels T1 to T12) – also known as the upper back, the thoracic spine encompasses the middle of the back, running from the base of the neck down to the abdomen. It is the longest section of the spinal cord and supports a large portion of the body’s vital organs, ribs, and nerves.

Lumbar spine (levels L1 to L5) is located in the lower back. Nerves in the lumbar spine are responsible for sending messages to the bowels, legs, feet, and lower intestines. Generally, injuries at this level impact the lower body almost exclusively.

Sacral spine (levels S1 to S5), is located at the bottom of the spinal cord just above the buttocks and tailbone. Spinal cord injuries at this level are less common, but are largely at risk during accidents such as slip and falls or with sports injuries.


Your spinal cord, which is a complex fragile bundle of nerve fibers bound like a cable and less than an inch wide, is the major connection between the brain and the rest of the body. It runs from the base of the brain down to the lower back and is surrounded by bone for protection. The spinal nerves are paired and travel to various parts of the body.  There are 31 pairs of spinal nerves, which are numbered according to sections of your spinal column.

The spinal cord is divided into four sections: cervical, thoracic, and lumbar. Each is responsible for controlling a particular part of the body. Specifically, the cervical spinal cord carries information related to movement and feeling to and from the upper body, arms, and hands; the thoracic cord does the same for the trunk; and the lumbar cord, for the lower body and legs. In all three sections, the sensory information and the motor information travel through different pathways, so that someone might be able to feel his leg even if he cant move it. After ter the last section of the spinal cord (L1 or L2), a group of loosely bound nerves known as the lower lumbar and sacral cord continues downward.

In particular, the sections of the spinal and accompanying spinal nerves are as follows:

The cervical or neck section (C1 to C8) includes 8 nerves and 7 vertebrae in the neck area.

The thoracic or chest section (T1 to T12) includes 12 nerves and 12 vertebrae in the chest and abdomen (belly) area.

The lumbar or low back section (L1 to L5) which includes 5 nerves and 5 vertebrae in the lower back. The spinal cord ends at the L2 level. Beyond this point, a collection of many nerves form the cauda equina, or “horse’s tail,” which is just what the bundle of nerves looks like.

The sacral section (S1 to S5) includes the lowest nerves exiting the spinal cord in the pelvic area (area of the buttocks). The sacrum is actually several vertebral bones that are fused, or  attached, to form one large bone with 5 nerves emerging from holes in each side of the bone.


Spinal Cord Injury arises from many causes which are both traumatic and non-traumatic.

Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury – results from the sudden, traumatic impact on the spine that either ractures or dislocates vertebral bones. The initial forces delivered to the spinal cord at the time of injury is known as primary injury where displaced bone fragments, disc materials, and/or ligaments bruise or tear into the spinal cord tissue.  Traumatic spinal cord injury often results from falls, motorcycle accidents, car accidents, trucking accidents, diving, assault, sports injuries and gunshot wounds.

Non-Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury –  non-traumatic SCI result from (not limited to) such disorders as tumors, ischemia (aneurisms, arthrosclerosis), developmental disorders such as spinal bifida, demyelinative disease such as MS, vascular malformation, disc herniation, spinal cord infections, blood clots, viral infections, non-malignant growths or spinal strokes.

Complete Spinal Cord Injury – happens when the victim becomes paralyzed below the level of the injury to the spine. Messages cannot be relayed up or down the spinal cord below the point of injury, to or from the rest of the body, so all of your voluntary movement and sensation beneath that level of injury.   Complete injuries will almost always cause the loss of sexual function and changes in a person’s bowel and bladder control.  Complete spinal cord injuries are generally classified as traumatic injuries, as they involve severe and life-changing paralysis or loss of neurological function and the chances of recovery are minimal.

Some common classifications of complete spinal cord injury include:

Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury – An incomplete spinal cord injury occurs when the victim suffers damage to the spinal cord but does not become paralyzed and may still experience some form of function below the level of injury. Because the damage is only partial, some exchange of information is still possible between the brain and various body parts through the spinal cord.  For example, an individual who suffers from incomplete tetraplegia will have some form weakness in both the arms and legs, but will still be able to move some muscles in these areas.


There are different types of incomplete spinal cord injury that may occur depending on the area of the spine that has been damaged. These include:

Anterior Cord Syndrome – is the worst prognosis of any of the spinal cord syndromes. The anterior part of the spinal cord carries the sense of light touch and the muscle control for the upper extremities and the neck. The posterior (back) part of the spinal cord carries sensory impulses from the sacral, lumbar, upper thoracic, lower thoracic areas of the body and the upper extremities. Damage to this part of the spinal cord causes an absence or decrease of the sense of position and movement, a loss of the ability to tell the difference between being touched in two different places (two-point discrimination), a loss of the ability to sense vibration, and a loss of the ability to sense deep touch and pressure; although the latter is questionable in some studies. Damage to this part of the spinal cord also interrupts impulses for voluntary motion and pain and temperature sensation.

Central Cord Syndrome – is the most common incomplete injury to the spinal cord is Central Cord Syndrome.  It is when an injury occurs in the centre of the cervical area of the spinal cord. This can result in loss of motor function or partial impairment in the hands and arms, and in rare cases the lower body.

Posterior Cord Syndrome – is the least  common spinal cord injury syndrome. It is caused by traumatic lesions which occurs at the back of the spinal cord. Posterior cord syndrome is normally caused by traumatic hyperflexion which is normally related to sport injuries or pedestrian / bicycle injuries – and damages  The lesions can also be caused by non-traumatic issues such as tumors or MS.  Posteriro cord syndrome usually results in the loss of avibration, fine touch, motor function, and proprioception at or below the level of injury.

Brown-Sequard Syndrome – is when an injury that occurs to one side or the hemisection of the spinal cord. The impacts of this injury are generally felt on one side of the body – resulting in partial paralysis or impairment. Characteristically, the affected person loses the sense of touch, vibrations and/ or position in three dimensions below the level of the injury.  Brown-Sequard can be complete or incomplete. Complete Brown-Sequard is rarer than incomplete Brown-Sequard.  Brown-Sequard can be caused by spinal cord tumor, penetrating or blunt trauma, degenerative disease, disc herniation, loss of blood flow, infection or inflammation (meningitis, empyema, herpes, myelitis, tuberculosis, syphilis, multiple sclerosis), hemorrhage and chiropractic manipulation.

Conus medullaris –  is another less common type of incomplete spinal cord injury that occurs when the damage is sustained in the lumbar spine or lower back. It does not always lead to full paralysis, but may result in some loss of function or weakness in the lower body.

Cauda Equina Syndrome: The section of the bottom of the spine is called the Cauda Equina, which is latin for horse’s tail. Cauda Equina Syndrome (CES) is a neurological (nerve) condition and can be extremely disruptive of a person’s life. Cauda Equina Syndrome (CES) may be regarded as a form of spinal cord injury.  Symptoms of Cauda Equina can be severe back pain, loss of sensation, weakness, bladder/bowel/sexual dysfunction: incontinence/retention of urine; incontinence of feces; impotence/loss of ejaculation or orgasm. The nerve roots of the Cauda Equina may be damaged by compression (herniated disc), stretching, inflammation,

Talk to a Hamilton Spinal Cord Lawyer Today – We Serve all of Canada

A spinal cord injury lawyer can be a major asset if you or a loved one have suffered any type of spinal cord injury. Since 2003 our Hamilton spinal cord injury lawyers have been working with and assisting spinal cord injury victims across the province – we have extensive experience with spinal cord injury law and work with some of the Province’s top occupational and life care planning experts. Together we can assist in ensuring that your future is protected, your accesssibility costs are covered, as are your daily living costs, rehabilitation, medication and therapy costs are covered – for life.

Book a free consultation with us tpday to go over the details of your condition, including the options available to you and the resources that could benefit you. All consultations are free, completely confidential, and come with no obligation to retain our services. We are simply here to help you during this difficult and life-changing time. You can fill in a contact form, call us nationwide at 1-844-LALANDE or local in the Hamilton / GTA area at 905-333-8888.



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