Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal Cord Trauma/Injuries

Our spines play a crucial role in our daily lives; they support our bodies, house nerves that control the movement of our extremities, and even contribute to our ability to speak and breathe normally. Because of the complexity of the spine, there are many ways an injury to the spine can affect the body.

Rebound’s brain and spine neurosurgery team consists of board-certified surgeons who treat a broad scope of conditions and injuries that affect the spine.

What is a Spinal Cord Injury?

Spinal cord injuries are caused by trauma to the spinal cord and nerves in the spinal canal. Spinal cord injuries typically do not cut the actual spinal cord. These injuries often involve a section of vertebrae damaging the nerves after fracture or intense pressure to the spine.

“To best understand spinal trauma or spinal cord injuries, it’s important to know how the spine functions and what it is made up of,” says Dr. Andrew Nemecek, Rebound neurosurgeon. “Our spines are typically around 18 inches long, and vertebrae protect the spinal cord. We refer to the spine in sections.”

Each section of the spine contains nerves that help perform specific functions in the body.

  • Cervical (neck) – injury to this area often result in the paralysis of or weakening of muscle strength in the arms and legs. These patients may experience difficulty speaking, breathing, eating and controlling their bladder and bowel movements.
  • Thoracic (mid and upper back) – injury may cause leg and lower body paralysis and loss/weakening of bladder and bowel control.
  • Lumbar (lower back) – injury may also result leg and lower body paralysis, including potential loss/weakening of bladder and bowel control.
  • Sacral (pelvis) – injury may result in bladder or bowel control issues and hip and leg functionality issues.

“Trauma to the spine interferes with sensory and motor functions because the spine plays a large role in sending and receiving messages to and from the brain to other areas of the body,” says Dr. Nemecek.

What is the Difference Between Complete Spinal Cord Injury and Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury?

A complete spinal cord injury typically means the patient loses all control of their sensory and motor functions below the area where the injury occurred.

An incomplete spinal cord injury typically means the patient loses partial control of their sensory and motor functions below the point of injury.

What Causes Spinal Cord Injury?

Common spinal trauma culprits include motor vehicle or motorcycle accidents, sport or recreation injuries, and falls. Injuries of any level to the spine should receive immediate medical attention.

There are several forms of spinal trauma, and severity or level of injury depends on the area of the spine affected. The most severe form of injury to the spine is typically one that occurs closest to the brain (cervical).

The most severe spinal trauma affects the high cervical nerves. We refer to this condition that affects both arms and legs as tetraplegia or quadriplegia. Tetraplegia and quadriplegia involve paralysis and the need for assistance with basic daily functions.

To understand the intricacies of injury to the spinal cord, click here.

What Symptoms Point to a Spinal Cord Injury?

While some symptoms as specific to the area of the spine affected, common symptoms of spine injuries include:

  • Pain
  • Muscle weakness or loss of muscle control/paralysis
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Sensory interference
  • Trouble breathing


Rebound Spine Resources:

Brain & Spine Neurosurgery

Spine Surgery Animations

Mobility and Spinal Pain

Spinal Fractures Caused by Osteoporosis

Neurosurgery Resources

Other Spinal Trauma Resources: 

American Association of Neurological Surgeons – Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal Cord Levels of Injury