What is a Spinal Cord Injury?

Spinal Cord Injury 3D image

A spinal cord injury (SCI) refers to the damage or trauma that occurs to the spinal cord, resulting in a disruption of its normal function.

It can be caused by accidents, falls, sports injuries, or medical conditions, and the severity of the injury can vary.

SCI can lead to paralysis, loss of sensation, and various complications depending on the location and extent of the damage.

Treatment and management of these injuries typically involve a multidisciplinary approach to stabilize the individual, prevent further damage, and promote recovery and rehabilitation.

What Are the Symptoms of a Spinal Cord Injury?

The symptoms of spinal cord injury depend on where the injury is and if the injury is complete or incomplete.

In incomplete injuries, patients have some remaining functions of their bodies below the level of injury, while incomplete injuries have no function below the level of injury.

Injuries can cause weakness or complete loss of muscle function and loss of sensation in the body below the level of injury, loss of control of the bowels and bladder, and loss of normal sexual function.

Spinal cord injuries in the upper neck can cause difficulty breathing and may require using a breathing machine or ventilator.

Man with spinal cord injury sat in wheelchair

How are Spinal Cord Injuries Diagnosed?

The physical examination includes x-rays of the neck or back, a computed tomography (CT) scan and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, another more advanced imaging study that can identify a spinal cord injury.

The MRI is better at evaluating the soft tissues, including the ligaments, intervertebral discs, nerves and spinal cord. The MRI scan also can show evidence of injury.

Most of these injuries have immediate symptoms, including loss of physical sensation and voluntary movement.

Women in wheelchair on mountain road

Levels of Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injuries (SCIs) are classified based on the level of the spine where the injury occurs. The level of injury determines which parts of the body are affected and the extent of functional impairment.

The following are the general levels of the injury, including both cervical (C) and thoracic (T) levels:

  1. Cervical Spinal Cord Injury:
    • C1-C4: The highest level of injury, resulting in significant impairment or loss of motor and sensory function in the arms, hands, trunk, legs, and pelvic organs. It can also affect breathing, requiring assistance such as a ventilator.
    • C5: Typically results in significant weakness or paralysis in the legs, trunk, and pelvic organs. Individuals may retain partial shoulder and elbow control, enabling some independence in self-care activities.
    • C6-C8: Allows for increased control and function in the arms, but hand and finger control may still be limited. Lower body functioning is typically affected, and assistance may be needed for walking.
  2. Thoracic Spinal Cord Injury:
    • T1-T5: Impairment typically affects the lower body, but individuals retain good upper body control and functionality. Assistance may be required for walking, and trunk stability may be limited.
    • T6-T12: Varying degrees of trunk and lower limb impairments, with increased control and independence in upper body function. Walking ability may be possible with assistive devices.

It’s important to note that the effects of a spinal cord injury can vary depending on the individual and the specific characteristics of the injury, such as the severity and completeness of the damage.

Additionally, the extent of functional recovery and rehabilitation potential can also differ from person to person.

How are Spinal Cord Injuries Treated?

Initially, efforts are made to stabilize the patient and reduce swelling around the injury.

In the long term, rehabilitation, therapies, and medications can help maximize function within the limitations of the injury.

The Prognosis for Spinal Cord Injuries

The prognosis of a spinal cord injury varies depending on several factors.

Some of these factors are:

  • Level and severity of the injury
  • Completeness of the injury (complete or incomplete)
  • Age of the individual
  • Overall health and pre-existing medical conditions
  • Access to medical care and rehabilitation services
  • Early intervention and intensive rehabilitation
  • Presence of secondary complications and their management

Only a small fraction of individuals sustaining a spinal cord injury recover all function.

Long-term data collected by the Shepherd Centre and the Spinal Cord Injury Model Systems (SCIMS) show an increase in life expectancy for people who have lived 25 years or more with spinal cord injury.

The survival rate at 25 or more years after the injury is 60%; this number has been climbing steadily.

In addition, many leading indicators show that the quality of that extended life expectancy is good.

ICON Rehab Powerchair UK
ICON Rehab Powerchair

Quantum Q6 Edge 2 Powerchair profile
Quantum Q6 Edge 2 Powerchair

Mobility for Those with A Spinal Cord Injury

Many with severe spinal cord injuries require the use of a specialized power wheelchair. Quantum Rehab, the global leader in individualized powerchairs, emphasizes mobility technologies specific to the needs of those with spinal cord injuries.

Quantum powerchairs incorporate power-adjustable seating for user repositioning and comfort, speciality drive controls, including those requiring minimal hand strength, and a highly adaptable design to meet an individual’s current and future needs.

Quantum powerchairs feature the latest advanced technologies to increase the independence of those living with spinal cord injuries.

iLevel seat elevation technology allows users to operate the powerchair at seated or standing.

Bluetooth is also integrated into Quantum’s Q-Logic 3 electronics, so those with spinal cord injuries can operate much of their environment with the powerchair drive control itself.

Quantum powerchairs are designed to provide optimal medical comfort and maximum independence for those with spinal cord injuries.


Clients with SCI who have significant mobility needs due to the level of injury will benefit from a power base that can accept full seating and positioning options like power tilt, recline, and power tilt and recline.

This offers a client with decreased ability to shift weight with independent pressure relief and allows the individual to maintain healthy skin integrity at the tissue surfaces making contact with the seat cushion.

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