Types and Levels of Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injuries vary in their type and level of severity. These classifications determine the typical symptoms and loss of feeling that accompanies an injury. Understanding the different types and levels of spinal cord injury can help victims understand the level of care they may need going forward.

What Are the Types of Spinal Cord Injury?

The types of spinal cord injuries are cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral. The level of injury for a victim is the lowest level where they have complete feeling and bodily function to the highest of complete paralysis. Effects from the injury depend on the level where it occurs.

The spine is made up of different vertebrae. They are categorized by section. The vertebrae closest to the head in the neck are called the cervical vertebrae. Below that, the thoracic vertebrae are the mid-section, followed by the lumbar and sacral vertebrae. Injuries that a victim may suffer are tied to where the injury occurs on the spine. The levels of spinal cord injury are based on common symptoms of injuries in that area.

Cervical Spinal Cord Injuries

There are seven vertebrae in the neck that make up the cervical spine. They are labeled C1-C8 and may be referred to as a “C spine injury.” Injuries that occur to the cervical spine are the most serious. Higher injuries (C1) are usually more severe than lower injuries (C8). However, any cervical injury may result in tetraplegia or quadriplegia. The victim may have reduced feeling or movement below the shoulder and neck area and throughout their body. Other cervical spine injury symptoms include:

  • Paralysis in the arms and hands
  • Paralysis in legs
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Incontinence
  • Injuries that completely prevent driving or that require an adapted vehicle
  • Victims may require intense personal care and assistance with daily tasks of living
  • Weakened breathing
  • Some elbow and finger extension may remain

Thoracic Spinal Cord Injuries

The thoracic spine is located in the middle of the back. It is labeled T1-T12. Vertebrae T1-T5 control the muscles as well as breathing. T6-T12 affect the abdomen and back muscles. Damage to the area may impact balance and posture. In addition, the thoracic spine allows a person to expel objects from their airway through coughing. Victims of thoracic spine injuries may experience:

  • Leg weakness
  • Paralysis in the arm
  • Diminished hand function
  • Lower back pain
  • Incontinence

A thoracic spine fracture is a common car accident spine injury. The fracture occurs when a bone in the spine collapses. Although a fracture may occur anywhere on the spine, it is most common in the thoracic vertebrae.

Lumbar Spinal Cord Injuries

The lumbar spinal cord sits below the thoracic spine. It encompasses the vertebrae of the lower back. The lumbar spine bears the most weight of the spine. Victims of lumbar spine injuries may experience:

  • Loss of function in the hips or legs; feeling loss may not be complete
  • The victim may still be able to walk with braces, or they may require the use of a wheelchair
  • Difficulty with hip bending or flexing
  • Problems straightening knees
  • Impact to the ability to bend the feet and toes

Must lumbar spine injuries are not life-threatening. The victim may make significant improvements with treatment and the use of appropriate mobility assistance devices. A victim may have some independence and mobility.

Sacral Spinal Cord Injuries

The sacral spine includes the S1-S4 vertebrae. A victim of a sacral spine injury may experience:

  • Loss of function or feeling in the hips, groin, thighs or sex organs
  • Although there is damage to functions in the lower body, most victims are still able to walk
  • Recovery may vary, but treatment is possible

What Are the Two Categories of Spinal Cord Injury?

The two categories of spinal cord injuries are complete and incomplete. A complete spinal cord injury is a total loss of function or feeling. The loss of feeling occurs below the injury level and affects both sides of the body equally. An incomplete spinal cord injury occurs when some feeling remains. The damage typically varies on the two sides of the body.

How Are Spinal Cord Injuries Rated?

Spinal cord injuries are rated according to the International Standards for Neurological Classification of Spinal Cord Injury (ISNCSCI) 1. There are three evaluations used to determine the extent of an injury:

  1. American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) motor score – measures motor function, muscle strength and movement
  2. ASIA Sensory Score – evaluates light touch and pinprick feel
  3. ASIA Impairment Scale Grade – a scale that determines whether an injury is complete

Injuries are rated A-E, with A being the most severe and E being the least severe. An “A” rating means complete sensory or motor function loss below the level of injury. The “B” rating occurs when a victim has some sensation below the point of injury but a loss of motor function. A “C” rating requires more than half of the main muscles receiving a grade three or lower rating on the ASIA motor scale, while a “D” rating is for half of the muscles having a grade three or higher rating. An “E” rating is normal sensation and motor function.

Syndromes Caused by Spinal Cord Injuries

Some of the specific syndromes that may be caused by spinal cord injuries include:

  • Central cord syndrome: Impacting hand and arm function, central cord syndrome occurs in 15-25% of spinal injuries. Injuries impact the central part of the spinal cord.
  • Brown-Séquard Syndrome: The syndrome is a common result of bullet and knife wounds. Loss of function and the inability to sense temperature may occur. Either side of the body or both sides may be impacted.
  • Anterior cord syndrome: Affecting the spinal cord’s front section, the syndrome causes a total loss of movement accompanied by pain and loss of temperature. The victim may have light touch sensations.
  • Posterior cord syndrome: The victim suffers from loss of touch sensation, but some movement and the ability to sense temperature may be saved.

Elite Litigation Group of Attorneys for Spinal Cord Injuries

If you have suffered spinal cord accident injuries, your life may never be the same. You may worry about paying for medical bills, future treatment and providing for your family. However, you may qualify to claim financial compensation and hold the responsible party accountable for your accident.

Our Elite Litigation Group of specialized attorneys has experience with complex claims that involve spinal cord injuries. We’re ready to provide the support and advocacy you need after suffering this life-changing event. Contact our catastrophic injury attorneys to request a free consultation about your case. We can help you understand everything related to your injury and claim, including spine injury workers’ comp settlements, cervical spine injury settlement amounts and cervical spine injury treatment. Call us today to get started.


1Fehlings, Michael G., MD. (1 August 2019). Spinal cord injury classification and syndromes. Retrieved 5 February 2021 from https://www.healthcentral.com/condition/spinal-cord-injury/spinal-cord-injury-classification-syndromes

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