Spinal Cord Injury

A spinal cord injury, also called an SCI, is damage to the spinal cord that results in sudden decrease in movement. The spinal cord is a soft bundle of nerves that goes from the base of the brain to the lower back. It runs through the spinal canal, a tunnel formed by openings in the bones of the spine. The bony spine helps protect the spinal cord.

The spinal cord carries messages between the brain and the rest of the body. This allows you to move and to feel touch, among other things. Injury to the spinal cord stops the flow of messages below the site of the injury.

The closer the injury is to the brain, the more of the body that is affected.

Injury to the middle of the back usually affects the legs. This is called paraplegia.

Injury to the neck can affect the arms, chest and legs. This is called quadriplegia.


Types of spinal cord injuries

A spinal cord injury may be complete or incomplete. A person with a complete injury doesn't have any feeling or movement below the level of the injury. In an incomplete injury, the person still has some feeling or movement in the affected area.

How are spinal cord injuries diagnosed?

To determine the extent of a spinal cord injury, your physician may order a CT scan (computed tomography scan) and an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). In addition, you will be tested to see how you respond to pinpricks and light touch to areas of your body. The doctor will ask you to move different parts of your body and test the strength of your muscles.

Together, these tests help the doctor identify the severity of the injury and how likely it is that you could get back some feeling and movement.


Life after a spinal cord injury

How can you plan for the future when you have a spinal cord injury? Today, with improved medical care and support, the outlook for people with a spinal cord injury is better than ever. In many cases, one year after the injury, life expectancy is close to that of a person without a spinal cord injury.

Join Parkview's spinal cord injury support group

Many individuals with spinal cord injuries find it helpful to participate in a support group with others who have had similar experiences. Parkview’s support group for those with spinal cord injuries meets on the last Monday of each month. Search our calendar of events for meeting dates or contact group facilitator, Elizabeth.Guevara@parkview.com.


When to call about spinal cord injury symptoms

  • You have frequent coughing periods.
  • You feel like you are choking or have problems swallowing.
  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You have fallen.
  • You have a fever.