How Spinal Cord Injuries Can Cause Paralysis

Most people think spinal cord injuries always lead to paralysis, but that is not the case. Some spinal cord injuries may only cause temporary paralysis or no paralysis at all. Unfortunately, there are certainly spinal cord injuries that do lead to various levels of paralysis for those involved. Here, we want to discuss the mechanics behind paralysis and a spinal cord injury as well as the various types of paralysis that can occur.

The Spine is an Information Highway

Information available from the Shepherd Center says that the spinal cord is “designed to relay messages between the brain and the rest of the body.” Unfortunately, anytime the spinal cord sustains damage as a result of trauma, this poses the risk of disrupting this information highway from the brain to the rest of the body.

There are various levels of spinal cord trauma that can occur, and each level comes with varying degrees of information disruption for the spine. In some cases, individuals are able to make a comfortable recovery after a spinal cord injury. However, that is not always the case. The spine does not regenerate, so when there is permanent damage, this typically means that individuals will sustain permanent damage that they must adjust to.

Levels of Paralysis Caused by Spinal Trauma

When discussing the levels of a spinal cord injury, we first must look at a broad view. We have “complete” and “incomplete” spinal cord injuries.

  • Complete spinal cord injuries cause permanent damage to the area of the spinal cord where the injury occurs. This means that the spinal cord is severed, and individuals will experience paralysis from that point downward.
  • Incomplete spinal cord injuries refer to partial damage of the spinal cord, and the level of disability that an individual experiences will depend on the severity of the injury and the area of the spine that sustained the injury. Outcomes for patients typically depend on their health and medical history.

When further breaking down the levels of paralysis caused by spinal cord trauma, we can examine the overreaching types of paralysis, such as quadriplegia and paraplegia.

  • Quadriplegia, also referred to as tetraplegia, usually refers to an injury to the spinal cord inside of the neck. In most cases, quadriplegia results in permanent paralysis from the neck down. This means that individuals cannot move any of their limbs, and their torso will be affected. Individuals may still have some ability to move or feel sensations, and they may be able to control automatic body processes, such as bowel and bladder function. However, a complete quadriplegia injury means that a person loses muscle control along with the ability to feel sensations and control automatic processes.
  • Paraplegia is a type of paralysis that typically only affects a person’s legs, though sometimes this can affect other lower portions of the body above the legs. Usually, this type of injury occurs as a result of trauma to the thoracic or lumbar spine areas. Individuals could have complete paraplegia, which means they lose all control of their lower limbs and automatic functions, such as bowel or bladder control. An incomplete paraplegia injury means that a person only loses partial function, and they may still be able to move some body parts below the site of the injury, but usually not as much as before the injury occurred.