Spinal cord injury symptoms depend on where along the spine the damage occurred, and whether the injury is complete or incomplete.
A complete injury means there will be no movement or sensation below the level of injury. These types of injuries are the most serious, and symptoms usually don’t get better with time. An incomplete injury means the brain still has some ability to communicate with the body beyond the point where the spinal cord was injured, although this communication may be very limited. If the injury is incomplete there is more of a chance small improvements can be made with time and appropriate treatment.
Classification of Injuries
Most doctors follow the American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) classification system which is called the International Standards for Neurological and Functional Classification of Spinal Cord Injury. There are five levels in this system that range from the most debilitating to the least serious: A, B, C, D and E.
A: Complete: The ability to move and feel below the injury are completely lost.
B: Incomplete: There is sensation but no movement below the level of injury
C: Incomplete: The muscles below the level of injury still function, and more than half of those muscles have full range of motion with support.
D: Incomplete: There is movement below the level of injury and more than half of the muscles have full range of motion against gravity or resistance.
E: Incomplete: No loss of movement or sensation is experienced below the level of injury.
Treatment is focused on addressing primary and secondary spinal cord damage. Initial spinal cord injury treatment includes surgery to stabilize the damage and an effort to prevent additional harm to the spinal cord from swelling, bleeding and cellular changes. Some institutions will use steroids although there is a debate about their effectiveness.
Most spinal cord injuries require long term care. Bladder and bowel dysfunction, pain and respiratory infections are only a few of the common complications. Extensive rehabilitation by a team of doctors, nurses, physical and occupational therapists and psychologists is needed.
Advocacy for your Injury
Spinal cord injury recovery depends on having the right support at the right time to preserve and regain as much function as possible. As a rehabilitation physician, Dr. Greg Vigna understands exactly what is needed to care for all types of adult and child spinal cord injury. As an attorney he advocates for the best possible care over one’s entire lifetime.