Spinal Cord Injuries

What is Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal cord injury can from a sudden, traumatic force to the spinal cord, resulting in fracture or dislocation of the vertebrae and damage to the spinal cord. It can also be due to disease, such as spinal cord tumour, transverse myelitis or polio.

Most injuries to the spinal cord don’t completely sever it, but the damage to the vertebrae cause compression of the cord. Spinal cord injuries are classified as either complete or incomplete, depending on the extent of the damage to the cord.

Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries:
An incomplete tear or lesion which results in partial damage to the spinal cord. This will result in varying levels of weakness and altered sensation below the level of the injury. One side of the body can be more affected then the other and there may be different symptoms on either side. Incomplete spinal injuries differ greatly between individuals depending on the damage to the nerve fibres.

Complete Spinal Cord Injuries:
Damage to the spinal cord that causes complete and usually permanent loss of function below the level of the injury.

Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries

  • Road traffic accidents including cyclists and pedestrians
  • Criminal Assaults such as gunshot wounds and stabbing
  • Falls from trees, ladders, scaffolding etc
  • Sports injuries such as diving into shallow water, horse riding, rugby, skiing and parachuting
  • Disease or infection such as Spina Bifida, spinal stenosis, spinal tumour, transverse myelitis or polio
  • Inflammation or disc degeneration


Each individual injury is different and symptoms depend on the level of the spinal cord that is affected and the extent of the damage to the nerve fibres in the spinal cord. In some cases more than one level of the spinal cord is affected. Some of the common symptoms of incomplete spinal cord injuries are:

  • Weakness
  • Spasms
  • Decreased or altered sensation
  • Bladder and bowel difficulties
  • Difficulty couching and clearing chest
  • Autonomic Dysreflexia

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