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Types of Spinal Cord Injury

Types of Spinal Cord Injury

Your spinal cord is just a bundle of nerves that is protected by the vertebral column.

Hold on. Let’s correct the above sentence.

Your spinal cord is more than just a bundle of nerves. It is responsible for sending motor commands to the brain, coordinating reflexes, and also acting as a conduit for sensory information from the brain to the body (and vice versa).

Even then, we take the spinal cord for granted. We do not for a second think about what would happen to us if our spinal cord malfunctions or is injured.

In this article, we’ll discuss the various types of spinal cord injury, this crippling neurological condition that impacts the patient physically and emotionally unlike any other condition.

What is Spinal Cord Injury?

Rightly touted as 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 can lead to weakness, loss of muscle function, and even lack of sensation in the body. All of these are red flags when it comes to SCI and must be identified and treated immediately. Improper bowel and bladder control, as well as loss of sexual function.

The time period immediately after the injury is sustained is extremely critical and is referred to as the acute phase of SCI. It is treated at a hospital that is equipped with an appropriate trauma centre. During this time, the patient is immobilised to avoid further damage to the spinal cord, to reduce existing damage, and possibly treat any other injuries that may have been sustained.

*Depending on the severity of the trauma and pathophysiological changes, the early acute phase may be from 2 hours to 48 hours after the injury. The subacute phase lasts from 2 days to 2 weeks after the injury. The immediate phase lasts from 2 weeks to 6 months after the injury.

Signs and symptoms of Spinal Cord Injury

The following signs and symptoms need to be addressed immediately if they show up after a traumatic injury or accident:

  • Respiratory issues
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of feeling in arms, legs, or chest
  • Loss of voluntary movement of muscles in chest, arms, or legs
  • Loss of bowel and/or bladder control and function
  • Loss of sexual function

While several of the above symptoms may be common to other ailments, if the individual has recently suffered any kind of trauma or injury, they need to definitely keep an eye out for these symptoms. The time between the injury and treatment plays a critical role in determining the severity and extent of damage (complications).

Causes of Spinal Cord Injury

Any traumatic injury that leads to the compression of the spine or neck may be a potential cause of SCI. These include:

  • Sports injuries
  • Diving accidents
  • Trampoline accidents
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Abscess on spinal cord caused by infection
  • Acts of violence
  • Birth injuries
  • Compression from tumour or infection
  • Gunshot wounds
  • Complications from surgery
  • Falls

Complete and Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury

The severity of damage to the spinal cord determines whether the injury is complete or incomplete. The location of the injury also determines how severe the symptoms are.

A complete injury results in absolutely no movement and feeling below the level of the injury.

An incomplete injury will still have some degree of movement and/or feeling below the level of the injury.

Based on the above, there are two medical terms used to describe the condition:

  1. Quadriplegia/Tetraplegia: Loss of movement and feeling in arms, legs trunk, pelvic organs
  2. Paraplegia: Loss of function and feeling from the waist-down (trunk, legs, and pelvic organs)

The four levels of Spinal Cord Injury

Cervical SCI

This type of SCI is regarded as the most severe. It is caused by injury to the neck region of the spinal cord (between C1 and C7 vertebrae). It invariably leads to partial or complete paralysis along with associated medical complications. The fatality rate attached to cervical SCI is also extremely high.

Thoracic SCI

This type of SCI is caused by injury to the upper chest, abdominal muscles, and mid-back. Loss of sensation in the limbs and genitals, incontinence, and lower back pain are some of its typical symptoms.

Lumbar SCI

This type of SCI affects the hips and legs. It can lead to varying degrees of loss of motor function in the lower body.

Sacral SCI

This is a rare type of SCI affecting upper thighs, hips, buttocks, and genitals. It is caused by injury to the sacral region. Loss of function in the legs and hips is an indicator of this type of SCI. However, patients can regain the ability to walk with timely treatment and physiotherapy.


Since an SCI is deemed as a medical emergency, the prognosis/treatment plan can be devised only after a full medical examination is conducted. This will include a range of tests like CT scan, MRI, blood tests, and X-Rays.

The treatment plan for SCI depends on:

  • The patient’s age
  • Medical history
  • Type of SCI and its severity
  • Initial response and treatment offered immediately at the site of the accident

The plan can also include:

  • Physical therapy – to help with recovery and possibly regain some motor function
  • Occupational therapy – to help improve daily functioning and regain independence
  • Stem cell therapy – to protect and regenerate the damaged spinal cord
  • Medicines like corticosteroids – to help reduce the swelling in the spinal cord
  • Feeding tube – placed through the nostril or directly through the abdomen into the stomach)
  • Bladder catheter
  • Ventilator

The recovery phase of SCI involves long-term hospitalisation and rehabilitation. During this time, the treatment will focus on helping you manage your pain, better your heart function, monitor bladder and bowel control, and attempt to control muscle spasticity (involuntary shaking).

In some cases, surgery may be recommended in order to assess the extent of injury, repair fractured vertebrae, release localised pressure, and treat any other injuries that may have been sustained at the time or after the accident.

Plexus rehabilitation for SCI

Tailored to suit the medical requirements of the patient and the extent of their injury, our rehabilitation for SCI covers a gamut of therapies and training, all of which offer the patient more than just hope for a better tomorrow. The results are here to stay!

Stem cell therapy

Stem cell therapy is offering an extended lease on life to patients suffering from various neurological diseases and disorders. An SCI can be treated and its symptoms can be managed effectively through stem cell therapy. 

Stem cell therapy is essentially a type of regenerative treatment that uses the body’s natural healing mechanism to treat a number of conditions. The injected stem cells have healing abilities. They modulate the immune system and help reduce inflammation.

Plexus Neuro and Stem Cell Research Centre is India’s first ISO-certified stem cell research centre. Spearheaded by Dr. Na’eem Sadiq, India’s foremost neurologist and internationally renowned stem cell specialist, Plexus uses only autologous stem cells that have been taken from the patient’s own body. The procedure is conducted under the guidance of Dr. Sadiq, by a team of highly-skilled and experienced stem cell specialists.

A number of SCI patients have made incredible progress under the care of Dr. Sadiq and his team. They have seen an increase in mobility, better motor function (with some of them even being able to walk again), reduced muscle stiffness/spasticity, and numerous other progressive changes.

This no-surgery and zero-side effects treatment has various benefits like:

  • Improved functionality and overall quality of life
  • Injury reversal/slower rate of decline
  • Prevention of further nerve damage
  • Regeneration and restoration of damaged nerve cells
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Immune system modulation
  • Speedy post-procedural recovery

Being India’s leading centre of regenerative rehabilitation with more than 35 years of clinical experience, we assure you an experience that is safe and risk-free. 

Physical therapy

Physical therapy for SCI rehabilitation is a great way to improve mobility and enhance the patient’s quality of life. Exercise is the key to prevent spasticity of muscle resulting from SCI. Passive range-of-motion exercises (PROM) and self range-of-motion exercises (SROM) can help improve muscle flexibility to a great extent.

Depending on the extent of your injuries, your physical therapist will draw up an exercise plan that can involve – 

  • Gait-training
  • Balance training
  • Mobility training
  • Trunk control and strength training

Physical therapy is essential for the management of pain, as well as helps improve flexibility, strength, and endurance.

Occupational therapy

An SCI can drastically reduce everyday functionality. The most mundane of activities becomes the most challenging. Occupational therapy can significantly improve daily living even when there are physical and cognitive limitations. This science-backed approach includes – 

  • Activities for daily living training
  • Balance and coordination training
  • Handwriting training
  • Splinting and assistive devices
  • Cognitive rehabilitation
  • Hand function training

The Plexus Rehabilitation Program for Spinal Cord Injury is the first-of-its-kind regenerative rehabilitation program in India. It also includes speech therapy, acupuncture, therapeutic massages, and more. Through this program, we aim to help the patient to not just live with an SCI, but thrive in spite of it!

To schedule an appointment with our team, please reach out to us here:

+91 89048 42087 | 080-2546 0886

080-2547 0886 | 080-2549 0886


Where is the most common SCI?

Cervical SCI and Thoracic SCI are the most common types.

What is the best treatment for SCI?

The best treatment depends on the type of SCI and extent of damage to the spinal cord. Surgery is the immediate treatment. The recovery phase can involve physical therapy, occupational therapy, regenerative treatments like stem cell therapy, and others as recommended by the doctor.

What are the 4 levels of SCI?

Cervical (neck), thoracic (upper chest, abdomen, mid-back), lumbar (hips and legs), and sacral (hips, buttocks, genitals) are the four levels of SCI.

Can you walk again after SCI?

The chances of walking after sustaining an incomplete SCI are 80% higher than if you have sustained a complete SCI. This is because the spinal cord can adapt and reorganise its structure, function and abilities through a naturally occurring process called neuroplasticity. 

Can someone fully recover from an SCI?

There’s no way to reverse spinal cord damage. However, regenerative procedures like stem cell therapy are gaining increasing ground for helping patients regain some amount of functionality. 

What is the most serious SCI?

Cervical SCI is the most serious. It can lead to partial or complete paralysis. It also has a higher risk of fatality.

Can MRI detect SCI?

An MRI is useful for the initial detection of SCI.

What type of surgery is done for SCI?

Laminotomy and Laminectomy are two surgeries that help decompress the spinal cord nerves. These surgeries involve removal of a portion of the lamina, the back part of the vertebral column.

Does SCI affect the brain?

SCI causes inflammations that affect the entire nervous system, including the brain. It can interfere with the cognitive functioning of the brain.

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