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Understanding Thoracic Spinal Cord Injury

Understanding Thoracic Spinal Cord Injury

One of the four types of spinal cord injuries, thoracic spinal cord injuries represent a unique set of challenges that impact the delicate balance of the nervous system and significantly affect a person’s life. At Plexus, we offer comprehensive regenerative rehabilitation for spinal cord injuries that comprise stem cell therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, gait and mobility training, as well as a range of other treatment programs designed. 

This blog is a know-it-all guide to thoracic spinal cord injuries. We discuss symptoms, lifestyle challenges, and the essential role of rehabilitation in regaining functionality. 

What is a Spinal Cord Injury?

One of the most devastating and heartbreaking neurological conditions, a spinal cord injury (SCI) is caused by a traumatic injury to the spinal cord. The injury is so severe that it can either bruise, partially tear, or completely tear the spinal cord.

An SCI typically results in weakness, loss of muscle function, improper bowel and bladder control, loss of sexual function, and even lack of sensation in the body. These are critical symptoms when it comes to SCI and must be identified and treated immediately. 

Types of Spinal Cord Injuries

On a generic level, most SCIs are a result of a sudden, traumatic blow to the vertebrae in the back, which would normally require surgery, medication, or physical therapy. Depending on the cause of the injury or trauma, SCIs can be classified as:

  • Complete: A complete SCI causes a “complete” lack of function or paralysis below the level of the injury. It is known to affect both sides of the body, and can paralyse all four limbs (quadriplegia) or just the lower half of the body (paraplegia).
  • Incomplete: In the case of an incomplete SCI, some function remains on one or both sides of the body. The body and brain can still communicate along certain pathways.

What is a Thoracic Spinal Cord Injury?

The thoracic spine, consisting of twelve vertebrae (T1 to T12). It is situated in the upper and mid-back region, connecting the cervical and lumbar spine. The spinal cord within this segment is responsible for transmitting signals between the brain and the rest of the body, facilitating motor function and sensory perception.

A thoracic spinal cord injury (SCI) refers to damage or trauma affecting the spinal cord within the thoracic region of the spine. Thoracic SCIs may be caused by  including traumatic incidents, such: 

  • Falls
  • Motor accidents
  • Sports injuries
  • Non-traumatic factors: diseases, infections, or degenerative conditions

The severity of a thoracic SCI depends on the extent of the damage to the spinal cord, which may lead to varying degrees of impairment.

Symptoms of Thoracic Spinal Cord Injury

The consequences of a thoracic SCI are significant, impacting both motor and sensory functions below the level of the injury. The symptoms are contingent upon the level of the injury along the thoracic spine. This would mean:

T1 to T5 Spine Injuries

Affects upper thoracic segments, impacting hand and arm function, and respiratory muscles

T6 to T12 Spine Injuries

Typically affects abdominal muscles, lower back, and legs

Common symptoms of thoracic SCI include:

Motor impairment

  • Paralysis or weakness in the legs
  • Some cases of paralysis of neck and chest (not arms)
  • Loss of fine and gross motor skills below injury

Disruption of autonomic functions

  • Causing blood pressure irregularities
  • Impaired temperature regulation
  • Changes in sexual function and fertility
  • Sweating

Altered or loss of sensation below the level of injury

  • Affecting touch, temperature, and proprioception
  • Change in perception of pain or pressure

Impaired respiratory function (in case injury affecting thoracic nerves controlling the muscles involved in breathing)

  • Increased risk of respiratory infections

Bowel and bladder issues

  • Loss of bowel and bladder control
  • Increased risk of urinary tract infections
  • Increased issues related to bowel management
  • May require assistance or adaptive strategies


  • Increased muscle tone and involuntary muscle contractions
  • Leading to stiffness and spasms

Additional issues that emerge over a period of time are:

  • Neuropathic pain (burning, tingling, or shooting sensations)
  • Musculoskeletal pain (from changes in posture and mobility
  • Pressure sores caused by reduced mobility
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Plexus’ Rehabilitation Program for Thoracic Spinal Cord Injury

Recovery from a thoracic SCI is a complex and often lifelong process. This is why rehabilitation plays a critical role. With the keen focus to maximise functionality, enhance independence, and improve overall quality of life, our rehabilitation program for thoracic SCI comprises therapeutic interventions, such as: 

  • Stem Cell Therapy: Injected mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) can provide trophic support to the injured spinal cord microenvironment. This is done by modulating the inflammatory response, increasing vascularisation and suppressing cystic change.
  • Occupational Therapy – It encourages the individual to regain independence by teaching them adaptive techniques for activities of daily living, community re-entry, and other tasks that they may like to engage in such as housework, caring for others, work/school etc.
  • Physical Therapy – This can help individuals improve mobility, strength, and flexibility through targeted exercises.
  • Respiratory Therapy: We regularly assess and monitor respiratory function, recommend breathing exercises to improve lung expansion and prevent post-SCI complications like atelectasis, teach coughing techniques to clear airways, implement strategies to improve posture and chest expansion, and other interventions deemed necessary by experts (based on the individual’s symptoms and severity of injury).
  • Mobility Aids and Assistive Devices: These include wheelchairs, braces and other aids to improve mobility and everyday functionality, and reduce external dependence.

We provide psychological support and counseling for patients, families, and caregivers.

It is important to keep in mind that management of SCI symptoms is based on the following three factors:

  • Severity of injury
  • Swift medical response to reduce secondary damage as much as possible
  • Consistent rehabilitation

If you’ve sustained a thoracic spinal cord injury, please know that it is not the end of the road for you. It doesn’t have to be so. At our centres in Bangalore and Hyderabad, we leave no stone unturned in providing you the best of rehabilitation services, keeping in mind your symptoms, and personal goals. 


Can you recover from spinal cord injury?

Recovery from spinal cord injury depends on the severity of the injury, timeliness of medical response to minimize further complications, as well as consistent follow-ups and rehabilitation. While some experience partial or full recovery, others may face permanent impairment. 

How does life change after spinal cord injury?

Life after a spinal cord injury undergoes a major transformation. Individuals have been known to face challenges in mobility, daily activities, and mental well-being. 

What is the first aid treatment for spinal injury?

First aid for an SCI focuses on immobilizing the spine to prevent further damage. This involves keeping the person still, supporting the head and neck, and calling for emergency medical assistance. Make sure you don’t move the person, unless absolutely necessary. They have to receive proper medical evaluation and care as soon as possible.

Is spinal cord damage permanent?

In the cases of complete SCIs, spinal cord damage can be permanent. The extent of recovery depends on factors such as the severity of the injury, prompt medical intervention, as well as consistent and effective rehabilitation efforts.

What happens if the thoracic spine is damaged?

Damage to the thoracic spine, depending on the severity and level of injury, can result in:

  • Motor and sensory impairments, affecting upper or lower limbs
  • Respiratory complications
  • Autonomic dysfunction
  • Changes in upper extremity functionality


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