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Spinal cord injuries: The level of damage influences practical impacts

On Behalf of | Feb 15, 2024 | Personal Injury |

The spinal cord is a vital component of the central nervous system. It runs from the base of the brain down through the vertebral canal to the lower back and is responsible for transmitting messages between the brain and the rest of the body.

It is divided into segments according to the vertebrae. The sections include cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral and coccygeal. Each segment controls different body functions and areas. Injuries at each level can lead to varying degrees of impairment, depending on the severity and location of the damage.

Cervical level (C1 to C8)

The cervical section of the spinal cord controls functions of the head, neck, diaphragm, arms and hands. Injuries at this level can result in the most severe consequences, including paralysis or weakness in the arms and legs, loss of physical sensation, difficulty breathing and loss of bowel and bladder control. The higher the injury within the cervical segment, the more significant the impact. C1 to C4 injuries potentially require mechanical assistance for breathing and full-time care.

Thoracic level (T1 to T12)

The thoracic spinal cord segment controls the torso and parts of the arms. Injuries in this region can lead to paraplegia, with the functional loss occurring below the chest level. Individuals with thoracic-level injuries typically retain arm and hand function. They may experience difficulties with balance and control of the trunk, which affects posture and the ability to sit upright without support.

Lumbar level (L1 to L5)

The lumbar spinal cord affects the hips and legs. Damage to the lumbar region can result in loss of movement and sensation in the hips and legs, but the severity can vary widely. Individuals may have difficulty with walking, need braces or wheelchairs for mobility and have altered bladder and bowel control. Rehabilitation and adaptive devices can significantly improve independence for those with lumbar spinal cord injuries.

Sacral level (S1 to S5)

The sacral segment of the spinal cord controls the groin, toes and parts of the legs, as well as bowel and bladder functions. Sacral region injuries can lead to weakness or paralysis of the hips and legs, sexual dysfunction and loss of bowel and bladder control. Individuals with sacral spinal cord injuries often maintain the ability to walk and may achieve a high level of independence with appropriate support and rehabilitation.

Coccygeal level

The coccygeal segment, located at the very base of the spine, consists of one terminal vertebra. Effects at this level are rare and typically don’t result in significant functional impairment compared to higher spinal cord injuries. These injuries can cause localized pain and discomfort, particularly when sitting.

When spinal cord injuries are caused by another party’s negligence, victims may opt to pursue a compensation claim to help offset their financial damages. Working with a legal representative may make this process easier, which can allow the victim to focus on healing.