People with SCIs often use a segment of the spine to talk
about their functional level. (Your functional level is how much of your body
you can move and feel.) For example, you might describe yourself as a
The nerves around a vertebra control specific parts of the
body. Paralysis occurs in the areas of the body that are
controlled by the nerves associated with the damaged vertebrae and the nerves below
the damaged vertebrae. The higher the injury on the spinal cord, the more
paralysis there is. For example, damage to the spinal nerves in the neck can
result in paralysis of the chest, arms, and legs (tetraplegia, also known as
quadriplegia). Damage lower down on the spine (thoracic, lumbar, or sacral
segments) can result in paralysis of the legs and lower body (paraplegia).
Breathing is only affected by injuries high on the spinal cord. But bowel and
bladder control can be affected no matter where the spinal cord is
Damage to the spinal cord can be complete or incomplete.
In a complete SCI, you do not have feeling or voluntary movement of the areas
of your body that are controlled by your lowest sacral nerves-S4 and S5. These
nerves control feeling and movement of your
perineum. In an incomplete SCI, you have varying
amounts of movement and feeling of the areas of your body controlled by the
sacral nerves. See how your
level of injury affects function.
Some recovery of feeling and
movement may return after the injury-how much depends on the level of injury,
the strength of your muscles, and whether the injury is complete or incomplete.
Most recovery occurs within the first 6 months of the injury.
For the family and caregivers
After a traumatic
SCI, your loved ones will often ask questions about the injury and what it
means. This should be encouraged, although you should keep your answers short,
simple, and honest. You cannot give a complete answer, because it is often
difficult to know how serious the injury is and how much movement or
feeling will be lost. This typically is not known until swelling and bleeding
are reduced and the doctors can find out where the spinal cord has been
Transition into rehabilitation
treatment and stabilization, there is a transition into rehab. Rehab centers
help you adjust to life, both physically and emotionally, with less mobility
and feeling than you previously had. What happens in rehab depends on your
level of injury. You may have to learn how to manage your bowel and bladder,
walk with crutches, do breathing exercises, and move between a wheelchair and
another location. The goal of rehab is to help you be as independent as
Before rehab, your spine will be stabilized with
surgery, braces, or both.