Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries: Types and Effects

graphic image of spinal cordBecause of its vital role in the functioning of the body, when the spinal cord becomes damaged or injured, the results can be significant. However, not all spinal cord injuries result in complete paralysis as there are various types of spinal cord injuries. In this article, we will discover more about partial or incomplete spinal cord injuries. We will discuss the various categories of these injuries along with the effects that a person may sustain as a result of an incomplete spinal cord injury.

Understanding the Spinal Cord

The spinal column is composed of three main parts—the cord itself (made up of a column of nerves that run down the length of the back), the bones that protect the spinal cord, and the discs that act as cushions between the vertebrae. The location on the spine where the damage has occurred is what helps classify the injury as complete or incomplete. In a complete spinal cord injury, a person loses all function and sensation below the injured point. However, for an injury to be considered incomplete, not all functionality or sensation is lost.

What Is an Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury?

There are three ways that an incomplete spinal cord injury may present itself, depending on where on the spine the damage occurred:

  • There is loss of movement below the point of injury, but the person is still able to have feeling.
  • There is loss of sensation below the point of injury, but the person is still able to have motor function.
  • The injury and loss of feeling/function falls somewhere in between the aforementioned scenarios.

An incomplete spinal cord injury is classified depending on a person’s reactions to various assessments, including a pin-prick test and a motor function test on different parts of the body. Based on a person’s reaction to these tests, the injury is categorized into an A, B, C, D, or E level (with the A level being a complete spinal cord injury down to E being considered “normal”). The B-D levels are diagnosed as incomplete spinal cord injuries.

Types and Effects of Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries

The location on the spine where damage has occurred influences what type of spinal cord injury a person is diagnosed with. Although Central Cord Syndrome is the most common, there are several other reasons a person may be diagnosed with an incomplete spinal cord injury, such as:

  • Central Cord Syndrome. This is the most commonly experienced form of incomplete spinal cord injury, which occurs when a person has damage to the main nerve that runs from the brain down through the spinal cord. Loss of arm and hand functionality is typical. Additionally, a loss of bladder control may occur as well as stinging or burning sensations. There are various treatments to consider, based on the severity of the damage. Although there is no cure, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) reports that, especially for younger patients, those who have been treated soon after the damage occurred may regain neurological recovery and some functionality. 
  • Anterior Cord Syndrome. This occurs when the artery that is located on the front part of the spinal cord has been damaged, causing a lack of blood flow. This typically results in a loss of muscle function below the damaged area. A person with this type of injury usually experiences the inability to feel temperature differences or pain, although he may still retain his sense of touch and the ability to know what positions his joints are in. According to the spinal cord injury peer support group Apparalyzed, once this type of damage has occurred, it is permanent. Only between 10-15% of those who have sustained this type of injury regain some functionality.
  • Posterior Cord Syndrome. When the damage occurs at the back of the spine, a person will lack the coordination of his limbs. However, a person with this type of injury has a high likelihood of retaining the sensations of temperature and pain, as well as muscle strength. The possibility of experiencing posterior cord syndrome is rare.
  • Brown-Séquard Syndrome. This is caused by a lesion on the back side of the spinal cord. The effects are loss of sensation on one side of the body and loss of movement on the opposite side. This uncommon condition can be caused by illness, a tumor, blockage of a blood vessel, or direct damage from an injury. NINDS indicates that most treatments focus on the cause of this condition rather than its symptoms, although steroids are often beneficial in dealing with the symptoms.
  • Cauda Equine Syndrome. This rare condition may develop as a result of a wound on the spinal cord; however, it may also develop due to compression of the nerves by a herniated disc or an infection, such as a spinal epidural abscess. For those with Cauda Equine Syndrome, their nerves at the bottom of the spine swell, causing the spine to transform into the shape of a horse’s tail.  Although uncommon, this is a serious condition that requires immediate medical intervention or permanent paralysis can occur, as well as loss of bladder/bowel control and other impairments.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with any of these injuries or involved in an accident that may be the source of an incomplete spinal cord injury, you will likely need financial reparations to cover your out-of-pocket costs and loss of wages. You can also be compensated for your mental, emotional, and physical damages. We would like to help you make the maximum possible recovery. Please call our law office for a free consultation at (703) 591-0067 or fill out a short form on our Contact Us page, and we will connect with you soon.