Home > Classification of Spinal Cord Injuries
Spinal cord injuries (SCIs) can be
classified based on function (how much feeling and movement you have) or on
where the damage occurred. When a nerve in the spinal cord is injured, the
nerve location and number are often used to describe how much damage there is.
For example, a C7 injury is associated with the seventh cervical nerve of the
neck and its effect on feeling and movement. Saying you are a C7 communicates
that you can feed yourself and partially dress yourself but may need help
bathing, and so on. C7 is known as the functional level of injury. These
classifications are often used by people with SCIs to describe
spinal cord is surrounded by protective rings of bone called
vertebrae. The vertebrae and spinal nerves are
segments, starting at the top of the spinal cord. Within each segment, the vertebrae and nerves are numbered. The segments are as follows:
The higher the damage occurs on the spinal
cord, the more of the body is affected. This is because the nerves in the area
of a vertebra
control body parts in that area. When the spinal cord is damaged, messages
cannot "jump over" the damaged area. This means that messages sent from the brain
cannot make it to body parts below the damaged area, and vice versa. Thus, the
body at and below the level of injury is affected.
For example, in
an injury to the spinal nerves in the neck area (C1 through C8), messages are
stopped in the neck area. This usually results in at least some
paralysis of the chest, arms, and legs (tetraplegia,
also known as quadriplegia). In an L3 injury, messages are stopped at the lower
back. This results in at least some paralysis of the legs and hips
SCIs are also described as complete and incomplete,
and an incomplete injury is further classified into four subsections. The
American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) classifies SCIs as follows:
December 13, 2011
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & Nancy Greenwald, MD - Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
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