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Living With a Spinal Cord Injury - What Happens

Classifying a spinal cord injury continued...

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 anus and perineum.
  • In an incomplete SCI, you have varying amounts of movement and feeling of the areas of your body controlled by the sacral nerves.

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. Keep your answers short, simple, and honest. You cannot give a complete answer, because it's often hard to know how serious the injury is and how much you will recover. This typically is not known until swelling and bleeding are reduced and the doctors can find out where the spinal cord has been injured.

Moving into rehab

After emergency treatment and stabilization, you will move into rehab. A rehab center helps you adjust to life, both physically and emotionally. The goal of rehab is to help you be as independent as possible.

Your 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.


WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 07, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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