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Workers’ Compensation Resources

Effects of Spinal Cord Injuries

Every year, about 17,000 people in the United States sustain a spinal cord injury.

That’s 46 new injuries every day. Most of these people are injured in auto accidents, falls, violence and sports-related accidents. The average age of newly injured patients is 42, and 80 percent of them are men.

What are the effects of a spinal cord injury?

The effects of a spinal cord injury depend on the type and level of the injury. Spinal cord injuries can be divided into two types of injury – complete and incomplete. A complete injury means there is no function below the level of the injury – no sensation and no voluntary movement. Both sides of the body are equally affected.

An incomplete injury means there is some function below the primary level of injury. A person with an incomplete injury may be able to move one limb more than another, may be able to feel parts of the body that cannot be moved, or may have more functioning on one side of the body than the other. With the advances in acute treatment of spinal cord injuries, incomplete injuries are becoming more common.

The level of injury is very helpful in predicting what parts of the body might be affected by paralysis and loss of function. Remember that in incomplete injuries, there will be some variation in these prognoses.

Cervical (neck) injuries usually result in quadriplegia. Injuries above the C-4 level may require a ventilator for the person to breathe. C-5 injuries often result in shoulder and biceps control, but no control at the wrist or hand. C-6 injuries generally yield wrist control, but no hand function.

Individuals with C-7 and T-1 injuries can straighten their arms, but still may have dexterity problems with the hand and fingers. Injuries at the thoracic level and below result in paraplegia, with the hands not affected. At T-1 to T-8, there is most often control of the hands, but poor trunk control resulting from a lack of abdominal muscle control. Lower thoracic injuries (T-9 to T-12) allow good trunk control and good abdominal muscle control. Sitting balance is very good. Lumbar and sacral spinal cord injuries yield decreasing control of the hip flexors and legs.

Besides a loss of sensation or motor function, individuals with spinal cord injury also experience other changes. For example, they may experience dysfunction of the bowel and bladder. Very high injuries (C-1, C-2) can result in a loss of many involuntary functions, including the ability to breathe, necessitating breathing aids such as mechanical ventilators or diaphragmatic pacemakers.

Other effects of spinal cord injury may include low blood pressure, inability to regulate blood pressure effectively, reduced control of body temperature, inability to sweat below the level of injury and chronic pain.

These injuries are life changing and if they occur as a result of a workplace accident you will need help. Contact us to help you.